After 12 months of heat waves, wildfires, and severe storms around the world, it’s official: 2016 was the warmest year on record.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced Wednesday that Earth’s average surface temperature last year was 58.69 degrees F., the highest since worldwide record-keeping began in 1880. This also makes 2016 the third year of record-setting warmth in a row, a finding that NASA confirmed using a different method.
In scientists’ view, this three-in-a-row trend makes the 2016 data especially significant. Years of record warmth were once anomalies. Now, many argue, they signal a shift: Human burning of fossil fuels is pushing Earth’s climate into warmer territory.
Scientists attribute these “big changes” primarily to human emissions of greenhouse gases. Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies, says that 12 percent of last year’s record heat was caused by the cyclical El Niño phenomenon, while the rest likely originated with burning of fossil fuels.