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2016 Set to Beat All Other Years for Record Warmth

In the northern latitudes, temperatures have been more than 12 degrees above average.

Wildfires like this September blaze in Spain are one kind of natural disaster expected to become worse in a warmer world. (Heino Kalis/Reuters)

Among the many extraordinary things about Donald Trump could be his science-spurning election in the hottest year in known history.

The World Meteorological Organization, the U.N.’s climate and weather body, announced on Monday that it’s “very likely” 2016 will beat 2015 for record global heat. Things have been toasty almost all over, but especially in the fast-melting northern latitudes: In parts of Russia the mercury has been more than 12 degrees Fahrenheit above average, while Canada has seen abnormal high temperatures of more than 5 degrees above average. “We are used to measuring temperature records in fractions of a degree,” says the WMO’s Secretary-General Petteri Taalas, “and so this is different.”

World Meteorological Organization

A brutal El Niño earlier this year helped drive temperatures across the planet to 1.6 degrees above the historical average, year-to-date. Should the WMO’s strong prediction come true, 16 out of 17 warmest-recorded years will have fallen in the 21st century. That makes minimizing the damages of climate change—from rising sea levels to massive coral die-offs to ramped-up wildfires—even more of an impossible-looking task in years to come.

Here’s more from the WMO’s provisional statement, which it issued for the ongoing U.N. climate conference in Morocco:

Temperatures were above normal over most ocean areas. This contributed to significant coral bleaching and disruption of marine ecosystems in some tropical waters, including the Great Barrier Reef off the east coast of Australia, and Pacific island countries such as Fiji and Kiribati. Coral mortality of up to 50% was reported in parts of the Great Barrier Reef....

Global sea levels rose about 15 millimetres between November 2014 and February 2016 as a result of El Niño, well above the post-1993 trend of 3 to 3.5 mm per year, with the early 2016 values reaching new record highs. Since February, sea levels have remained fairly stable....

Annual and long-term changes in the climate system can aggravate social, humanitarian and environmental pressure. According to International Organisation for Migration, population migration is expected to increase as a result of more frequent and potentially more intense weather-related disasters, competition and conflict over shrinking resources, and rising sea levels rendering coastal and low lying zones uninhabitable.

About the Author

  • John Metcalfe
    John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.