Energy

Naturally-Occurring El Niño Makes 2015 The Hottest Year On Record

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Michael Bastasch Energy Editor

U.S. government scientists have declared 2015 to be the hottest year on record based on surface temperature readings, reaching 0.87 degrees Celsius above the 20th century average.

Last year’s record heat, however, was in part due to the strongest El Niño warming event in 18 years that lasted through most of 2015. Indeed, El Niño was to blame for the freakishly warm weather Americans experienced over the holidays.

Scientists with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found 2015 was about 0.13 degrees hotter than 2014 — that year was previously labeled as the warmest on record, but scientists were only 48 percent sure of it. Scientists say there’s only a 5 percent chance another year is warmer than 2015, thanks to a powerful El Niño.

“2015 was remarkable even in the context of the ongoing El Niño,” Gavin Schmidt, a NASA climate scientist, said in a statement. “Last year’s temperatures had an assist from El Niño, but it is the cumulative effect of the long-term trend that has resulted in the record warming that we are seeing.”

El Niños are warming events that heat up the Pacific Ocean for months (sometimes longer) and raise the Earth’s average temperature. El Ninos come pretty regularly every few years, and there are even decades when El Niños are much more prevalent than their cooling counterparts — La Niñas.

There was an El Niño throughout most of 2015, according to NASA. The current El Niño was ranked the strongest such event in 18 years and isn’t expected to weaken until Spring 2016.

But while surface temperature readings showed 2015 to be the warmest on record, satellite temperature readings only found last year to be the third or fourth warmest on record.

Satellite data from the University of Alabama, Huntsville found 2015 to be third warmest on record, and Remote Sensing Systems satellite data ranked 2015 as the fourth warmest in the nearly four-decade-old satellite record.

Satellites look at the lower atmosphere to compile temperature readings where the effects of global warming should be most apparent. Satellites show much less warming than surface temperature readings from weather stations, buoys, ships and other such equipment.

Scientists more alarmist about global warming have recently launched a campaign to cast doubt on satellite temperature readings by pointing out the problems with gathering data on the lower atmosphere from satellites.

But recent research shows there are potentially huge issues with surface temperature data. A study by meteorologist Anthony Watts published in December found the “majority of weather stations used by NOAA to detect climate change temperature signal have been compromised by encroachment of artificial surfaces like concrete, asphalt, and heat sources like air conditioner exhausts.”

Watts and his colleagues found attempts by NOAA to “adjust” its data set by tweaking temperature records up or down to compensate for things like urban heat islands seem to be inflating the warming occurring over the U.S. — possibly the world.

“This study demonstrates conclusively that this issue affects temperature trend and that NOAA’s methods are not correcting for this problem, resulting in an inflated temperature trend. It suggests that the trend for U.S. temperature will need to be corrected.” Watts found.

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