2014 hottest year on record – Experts respond

The year 2014 ranks as Earth’s warmest since 1880, according to two separate analyses by NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists.

Since 1880, Earth’s average surface temperature has warmed by about 0.8 degrees Celsius, a trend that is largely driven by the increase in carbon dioxide and other human emissions into the planet’s atmosphere. The majority of that warming has occurred in the past three decades.

More information, including video, can be found in a joint release from NASA and NOAA scientists.

The NASA and NOAA data confirms preliminary findings from the Japanese Meteorological Agency, released last week.

The Science Media Centre contacted climate researchers for comment on the new findings.

Prof James Renwick, School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences, Victoria University Wellington, comments:

“The year just gone (2014) has come in as the warmest on record, where the record goes back to 1880. We are only a few weeks past the warmest year on record but it is now 104 years since the last coldest year on record.  The year 1988 was a record warm one at the time, and spurred a lot of interest on “global warming” in the late 1980s, but now 1988 doesn’t even feature in the top 20 warmest years.

“Temperatures in individual years vary around for many reasons, but the overall trend is upwards. Only greenhouse gas increase can account for the warming we’ve seen, especially since the middle of the 20th century.

“Temperatures in different regions can also vary around for many reasons, as heat is shunted around by natural factors such as El Nino, or major ocean currents. So while 2014 was the warmest on record overall, averaged across the globe, some places (such as the eastern USA) were cooler than normal last year. Meanwhile, western Europe has its warmest year in centuries. New Zealand was warmer than normal in 2014, but was not as warm as 2013. This was partly due to a tendency towards more cool southerly winds than normal in the NZ region, and the ameliorating influence of the southern oceans.

“This year (2015) has started off warm and dry in many parts of the country. Whether or not this comes out as another record-breaker, here or globally, remains to be seen. What we can be sure of is that we will continue to see new record warmth into the future, along with increasingly extreme heatwaves and rainfalls, unless we take action to reduce greenhouse gas levels.

Dr Jim Salinger, Ernst Frohlich Fellow, CSIRO, comments:

“As I watch from my Australian perch in Hobart the globes hottest year in 2014 matches up generally with what is happening across the ditch. Australia had it’s 3rd warmest year on record. The globally trends are now stuck on a slow rising trend in global surface mean temperature, with variations locally.

“For example in New Zealand 2013 was one of the warmest on record, whereas 2014 was not a record breaker. However, in New Zealand,compared with the long-term average from 1908 to 2014 it was still a warm year. The rising temperature trend is now locked in and record temperatures throughout the oceans are now being monitored by the United States Argo float programme. As well mountain glaciers continue to retreat and the rate of sea level rise is increasing. All this means that global warming is well established and citizens need to preapre for living in a warmer world.”

Our colleagues at UK SMC collected the following expert commentary:

Prof Tim Palmer, Royal Society Research Professor, University of Oxford, said:

“This is just another small piece of evidence that climate science’s warnings about the future cannot, regrettably, be dismissed.”

Prof Rowan Sutton, Director of Climate Research at the National Centre for Atmospheric Science, University of Reading, said:

“By itself a single year doesn’t tell us too much, but the fact that now 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have occurred since the turn of the century shows just how clear global warming has become. This is yet another flag to the politicians, and to all of us.”

Bob Ward, Policy and Communications Director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, said:

“The new global temperature record announced today completely exposes the myth that global warming has stopped. The truth is that the rate of increase in global average surface temperature over the past 15 years has temporarily slowed to about 0.05 centigrade degrees per decade, but it is likely that it will pick up again in the future if atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases continue to rise unabated. Measured over the period since 1951, global mean surface temperature has been rising at about 0.12 centigrade degrees per decade.

“There is mounting evidence all around the world that the Earth is warming and the climate is changing in response to rising levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide levels are close to 400 parts per million, 40 per cent higher than they were before the Industrial Revolution, and probably higher than they have been for millions of years. The polar ice sheets and glaciers are shrinking, global sea level is rising at an accelerating pace, and the risks of heatwaves and heavy rainfall are increasing in many parts of the world, including the UK, which has just experienced its hottest year on record.

“No politician can afford to ignore this overwhelming scientific evidence or claim that global warming is a hoax. Climate change is happening, and as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, national scientific academies and scientific organisations across the world have all concluded, human activities, particularly burning of fossil fuels and deforestation, are primarily responsible.

“The record temperatures last year should focus the minds of governments across the world on the scale of the risks that climate change is creating, and the urgency of the action that is required, including an international agreement to strongly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, to be reached at the United Nations climate change summit in Paris in December 2015.”