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NASA reports that 2020 was tied for the warmest year on record

Experts say high temperatures over the last few years are troubling for the environment

Photo (c) Kulka - Getty Images
Recent studies have explored the consequences of rising global temperatures. Now, new data from NASA is looking at just how warm it was over the last year. 

According to findings from a new study, experts found that 2020 tied with 2016 for the warmest year on record. The researchers say they’re concerned about what consistently rising temperatures mean for consumers and the environment moving forward. 

“The last seven years have been the warmest seven years on record, typifying the ongoing and dramatic warming trend,” said researcher Gavin Schmidt. “Whether one year is a record or not is not really that important -- the important things are long-term trends. With these trends, and as the human impact on the climate increases, we have to expect that records will continue to be broken.” 

What contributes to global temperatures?

NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) tracks the global temperature each year using data from weather stations, ocean temperature readings, and satellites that track changes in the atmosphere. Each year, they compare the global temperature to the baseline temperature calculated between 1951 and 1980. 

They learned that 2020 was almost two degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the baseline temperature, and it tied with 2016 as the warmest year ever on record. The researchers at NASA explained that there are several factors that contribute to rising global temperatures, and 2020 had a wide array of influences that came into play. 

The researchers credit the El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) for having the biggest impact on rising global temperatures. They explained that fluctuations in ocean temperatures affect the speed, direction, and temperature of the winds, all of which can then impact the overall temperature on Earth. Wind patterns are calmer when ocean temperatures rise, but this also releases more heat into the atmosphere and can increase temperatures around the world.

“The previous record warm year, 2016, received a significant boost from a strong El Nino,” said Schmidt. “The lack of a similar assist from El Nino this year is evidence that the background climate continues to warm due to greenhouse gases.” 

Wildfires also play a role

On a different note, the Australian wildfires that affected the continent for nearly half of 2020 had both positive and negative impacts on the environment. While the fires led to the devastation of millions of acres of land and contributed to more debris and pollution in the air, the lack of sunlight for months on end likely benefited the overall global temperature. 

The study also showed that efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic played a role in the yearly temperature reading. Global shutdowns that led to improvements in air pollution and lower CO2 emissions were believed to be a positive to come out of the pandemic; however, this actually contributed to the rising global temperature. 

The researchers explained that carbon dioxide (CO) emissions were at record lows, but overall CO2 emissions remain consistently high, and that’s what affects the global temperature. While improvements to air pollution may seem like a positive, the researchers say it actually leads to more heat by creating more opportunities for sunlight to reach the earth. 

The researchers hope that these findings shed light on the state of climate change, and how many of our actions can contribute to rising global temperatures. Ultimately, these factors will have long-term effects on the planet, and it’s important that consumers understand the implications of consistently high global temperatures. 

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