Shared from the 1/16/2020 The Denver Post eEdition
By Seth Borenstein
The Associated Press
Tourists at Lake Conjola, a popular holiday destination in Australia, take refuge on a beach from wildfires Tuesday. This fire season has been one of the worst in Australia’s history, with at least 15 people killed, hundreds of homes destroyed and millions of acres burned. Matthew Abbott, © The New York Times Co.
WASHINGTON»The decade that just ended was by far the hottest ever measured on Earth, capped off by the second-warmest year on record, two U.S. agencies reported Wednesday. And scientists said they see no end to the way man-made climate change keeps shattering records.
“If you think you’ve heard this story before, you haven’t seen anything yet,” Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said at the close of a decade plagued by raging wildfires, melting ice and extreme weather that researchers have repeatedly tied to human activity.
Schmidt said Earth as a whole is probably the hottest it has been during the Holocene — the past 11,500 years or so — meaning this could be the warmest period since the dawn of civilization. But scientists’ estimates of ancient global temperatures, based on tree rings, ice cores and other telltale signs, are not precise enough to say that with certainty.
The 2010s averaged 58.4 degrees Fahrenheit worldwide, or 1.4 degrees higher than the 20th-century average and more than one-third of a degree warmer than the previous decade, which had been the hottest on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The decade had eight of the 10 hottest years on record. The only other years in the top 10 were 2005 and 1998.
NASA and NOAA also calculated that 2019 was the second-hottest year in the 140 years of record-keeping.
Several scientists said the coming years will be even hotter.
“This is going to be part of what we see every year until we stabilize greenhouse gases” from the burning of coal, oil and gas, Schmidt said.
“It’s sobering to think that we might be breaking global temperature records in quick succession,” said Georgia Tech climate scientist Kim Cobb. “2020 is off to a horrifying climate start, and I fear what the rest of the year will bring to our doorsteps.”
Other explanations that rely on natural causes — extra heat from the sun, more reflection of sunlight because of volcanic particles in atmosphere, and just random climate variations — “are all much too small to explain the long-term trend,” Princeton University climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer said.
Parts of Europe, Asia, Australia, Africa and South America had record-high temperatures in 2019, as did Alaska, New Zealand and New Mexico, NOAA said. Alaska was 6.2 degrees warmer than average, at 32.2 F. It was the first time in recorded history that Alaska’s average annual temperature was above freezing.
Global warming is being seen in heat waves, ice sheet melt, more wildfires, stronger storms, flood-inducing downpours and accelerating sea level rise, said Hans-Otto Portner, who heads the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change team that looks at the impact of climate change.
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