Is 2016 The Hottest Year On Record? Satellites Say No

NOAA/handout via REUTERS

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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Many climate scientists claim 2016 is on track to be the warmest year on record, but satellite-derived temperature data tells a different story.

Satellite data compiled by scientists at the Earth System Science Center (ESSC) at The University of Alabama in Huntsville show global average temperature for the first eight months of 2016 show this year has been the second warmest year on record.

“While global average temperatures peaked higher this year than they did in 1998, temperatures fell faster this spring and summer to levels that are cooler than they were at this same time of year in 1998,” said John Christy, ESSC’s director and Alabama’s state climatologist, according to the science blog Watts Up With That.

August 2016 ranked as the second warmest on record for that time, ranking behind August 1998 when a massive El Nino warming event boosted average global temperature. The first eight months of 2016 ranked slightly cooler than the first eight months of 1998.

A similarly powerful El Nino event hit in late 2015 and persisted through the early months of 2016, and time will tell if enough La Nina cooling occurs to keep temperatures down.

Scientists expect 2017 to be cooler than this year as a La Nina cooling event sets in, but it’s not expected to be very strong. Either way, the onset of widespread cooling over the Pacific Ocean by the end of this year could keep the average global temperature down to make 2016 the second-warmest on record.

“We had three months this year that were warmer than their 1998 counterparts, and five that were cooler,” Christy said. “There is really no reliable way of predicting what the next four months will do, compared to those same months in 1998.”

NASA scientists expect 2016 to be the warmest on record, beating out 2015 as the current warmest.

But NASA’s expectations are for surface temperatures, which take temperature data from thousands of weather stations, ships and buoys around the globe. So those readings only take into account temperatures at the Earth’s surface.

Christy, on the other hand, derives data from advanced microwave sounding units on satellites to measure temperatures in the bulk atmosphere — that runs from the Earth’s surface to about 5 miles above sea level.

Christy’s satellite data only shows a slight global warming trend since the late 1970s when satellites began collecting data. Satellites show a warming trend of 0.12 degrees Celsius per decade, but that’s including this year’s El Nino.

Before the 2015 El Nino, Christy’s satellite data showed no significant warming trend for more than 21 years — a period dubbed the “hiatus” in global warming.

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