2010 Global temperatures in top 3 warmest on record – WMO

The World Meteorological Organization released its draft annual statement on the status of global climate today at UN climate talks (COP16) in Cancun.

The statement details extreme weather trends around the globe in the past year, and says that 2010 is set to be among the warmest three years since instrumental recordings began in 1850, with 2001-2010 being the warmest decade on record.

Of particular relevance to New Zealand is the description of this year’s rapid shift from El Niño to La Niña conditions, and indications that this is the strongest La Niña witnessed in over thirty years.

Local and overseas expert reaction to the climate and temperature statements released today by the WMO are below.

UPDATED: Dr Brett Mullan, Manager of Climate Variability Group, NIWA comments:

“These are telling statistics from the WMO on the 2010 global temperature. It is now certain that the last 16 years, 1995-2010, contain the 15 warmest years globally in the instrumental record.

“Only one single year of the twentieth century, namely 1998, achieved a global-average temperature higher than the average over the last 10 years, 2001-2010.

“However, the year is not yet over and the current La Nina in the Pacific may yet knock 2010 out of the top slot. Global temperatures inevitably rise in the long-term with increasing greenhouse gas concentrations, but the year-to-year variations are dominated by other factors. That large tropical volcanic eruptions cool the global climate is well-known. Climate scientists have also known for more than 20 years that El Ninos influence the global temperatures with a time delay of around six months.

“The El Nino present at the end of last year was a big factor in the U.K. MetOffice’s prediction a year ago that 2010 was likely to be unusually warm.  Since that time El Nino has dissipated and a very strong La Nina has developed, but we are still to experience the full cooling effect of the latter. So, to me, it is going to be a close call whether the La Nina can pull down global temperatures enough in the remaining month or so of 2010. Looking ahead, I would not expect 2011 to be as warm as 2010.”

Dr Jim Salinger, Honorary Research Fellow at University of Auckland comments:

“The climate observations are very clear: the warming of the planet continues during decade 2000 and beyond with continued shrinking of Arctic sea ice, and mountain glaciers. Political commitment to reduce carbon emissions into the atmosphere substantially is long overdue if very significant warming of the globe is to be prevented by 2100. The planet has spoken.”

Dr James Renwick, Principal Scientist, Climate Variability & Change, NIWA comments:

“The statistics just out from WMO demonstrate that the globe continues to warm, despite some regional and seasonal cold spells. The years 2010, 2005, and 1998 will rank as the three warmest years on record in the global average, and 2001-2010 the warmest decade on record. Consistent with this, the oceans continue to warm and seas levels to rise, Arctic sea ice continues to disappear (especially multi-year ice) and glaciers and ice sheets continue to recede world-wide. There are significant real risks of major negative impacts for human society over the course of this century.

“After a small downturn in 2009, greenhouse gas emissions have bounced back in 2010 , continuing the upwards trend seen in the last decade. The extra carbon dioxide will be in the atmosphere for centuries, and sea levels look set to keep rising for a thousand years or more. The sooner the global community seriously tackles this issue, the better. Let’s hope Cancun delivers a positive outcome.”

UPDATED: Prof Martin Manning, Climate Change Research Institute, Victoria University of Wellington  comments:

“The WMO report to the UNFCCC on the 2010 weather summarises what has been a different
year in several respects. When we are considering climate change, an individual year does not carry much weight and we have to identify trends. But 2010 has been unusual in many respects and is raising some new questions.

“Although the temperature data for November is preliminary and for December is not available
yet, it is clear that this will be one of the warmest years on record. Back in 1998 global average temperatures spiked up briefly because of a strong El Niño event affecting the transfer of heat between the atmosphere and ocean. However, 2010 is about as warm as that and this now appears to be part of the long term trend.

“From the climate change perspective, what is more important than any individual year is that the last decade has very clearly been the warmest since weather records started to produce global average temperatures 160 years ago. The long term warming pattern is strongest over land and in the Arctic. Several regions have now had temperatures 0.7°C to 0.9°C warmer than in any previous decade. On the other hand, regions in northern Europe had a cooler winter and this caused much more snow than normal.

“More rapid warming in the Arctic means that there is now less of a temperature difference with North America and Europe and this is raising the question as to whether that combines with more water vapour being in the atmosphere to produce heavier snowfall. A trend of that type has been seen around the Great Lakes in the USA and Canada for some time now.

“Potential trends in extreme weather events are becoming important to understand. The record flooding in Pakistan, and parts of China, at the same time as a record heatwave in Russia causing about 11,000 deaths, is raising new questions. Although this is not covered in the WMO summary, some climate scientists now believe that this weather pattern across much of Asia can be linked to the warming that is occurring in the Arctic and Indian Ocean.

“Extreme weather in 2010 also affected the Amazon region, with widespread drought meaning that water flow in a major tributary, the Rio Negro, fell to the lowest level on record for more than 100 years. The previous record drought in the Amazon region was in 2005 and that resulted in some loss of forests.

“Arctic sea ice reaches its annual minimum area in September and this has not gone below what came after an abrupt drop in 2007, but it has not recovered either. In fact an analysis of the Arctic sea ice volume, rather than just its area, has recently suggested that the volume did drop to a new record low level in 2010.

“The rates of change in our climate system are becoming a challenge for scientists to track
carefully, and detailed explanations take even more time to come up with. Dealing with our
changing climate is now becoming an area where there has to be more focus on risk management.”


Below are comments gathered by the Science Media Centre in London:

Dr Chris Huntingford of the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology said:

“There are multiple independent research groups from around the world, all analysing the likely effect of increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. There is broad agreement that the burning of fossil fuels is causing global warming, and so the general higher temperatures being reported are consistent with this.

“There is absolutely no intention of scaremongering, but if this warming continues, then we can expect major alterations to our weather and including adjusted patterns of rainfall. Some of these changes might be particularly unwelcome, threatening both food and water security.

“The challenge to researchers is to make ever more detailed regional predictions of exactly how climate change will manifest itself. This knowledge can inform the spending of funds set aside to help society adapt to a changing climate.”

Prof Mark Maslin, Director of the Environment Institute at UCL, said:

“Those who hoped that global warming would just go away will be disappointed by today’s announcements. Temperature records show that 2010 will be one of the warmest years ever recorded, adding to the huge weight of evidence accumulated by dedicated scientists over the last two decades showing climate change is real. It shows that the science underpinning the negotiations at Cancun is correct and adds further weight to the need for a globally negotiated and accepted deal on carbon emissions.”

Professor James Crabbe, Professor of Biochemistry at the University Of Bedfordshire, said:

“The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) report today on the state of the climate in 2010 gives little Christmas cheer for coral reefs, the most diverse ecosystems on the planet. The tropical North Atlantic was especially warm with temperatures at record levels over most of the area east of longitude 55°W. This comes after a previous record year in 2005, where raised ocean temperatures resulted in severe damage to reefs throughout the Caribbean. The work of many scientists who monitored the event has just been published in a prestigious open access journal (1). Our fears that that 2010 was shaping up to be even worse (2) have been vindicated by the WMO report. This year coral bleaching has been observed in every ocean and major sea in which coral occurs, from the Persian Gulf to southeast Asia, the Central Pacific to the Caribbean – only the second time this has happened (the first time was in 1998). Bleaching results in the loss of the symbiotic algal cells which are essential for their photosynthesis, without which the corals ultimately can die.

“This has serious implications for the many populations – c. 1 billion people – who live near coral reefs, and rely on them for their livelihoods and nutrition. It also has major implications for those who do not live near reefs, for many social and biological reasons. We need to develop mechanisms for mitigation of carbon dioxide levels at the Cancun meeting that will result in minimising the temperature increase, so that at least some coral ecosystems will be able to survive in the future.”

UPDATED: Comments gathered by the Canadian SMC

For more information, contact the Science Media Centre on 04 499 5476 or smc@sciencemediacentre.co.nz