A portion of the country may be in the midst of blizzards and below-freezing temperatures, but a Wednesday release from NASA deemed 2015 the warmest year to date, with record-shattering surface temperatures.
According to new data from scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, globally averaged temperatures in 2015 were greater than those in 2014 by 0.23 degrees Fahrenheit. Additionally, the earth’s average surface temperature has risen about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit since the late 1800s. Furthermore, the data provides evidence for the long-term warming trend that has steadily grown in the past 35 years.
Gavin Schmidt, director of GISS, wrote in an email that these conclusions came from a variety of data collection methods, including weather station data, ocean buoy and ship measurements. These methods were used to “assess the pattern of temperature anomalies and their global mean.” He wrote that he believes that the reason for 2015’s warm temperatures is a combination of two factors.
“[The high temperatures were] mainly a result of the long term trend in global warming, with a little assist from the El Niño event in the second half of the year,” Schmidt wrote. “And the long term trend? Caused by the increasing concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.”
Schmidt and other environmental experts confirmed that the long-term global warming trend is detrimental, both domestically and internationally.
“The overwhelming consensus is that we are already seeing damages from climate change in a broad spectrum of different sectors: agriculture, coastal development, human health, water resources and natural ecosystems, to name just a few,” said Anthony Janetos, director of Boston University’s Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future. “Unless climate change is slowed significantly or stopped, damages will continue to increase.”
Robert Kaufmann, director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Studies, urged people to look beyond the warming to recognize its dramatic effects on future climate.
“The planet in general is getting warmer, but we’ve got to keep our eye on stronger storms or extreme events. Even things like big snowstorms [are a] part of climate change and even warming, because warm air holds more moisture than cold air, so you have more potential water to fall back on the ground,” he said. “Also, warmer air has more energy in it and can create more powerful storms and winds. It’s warming, but don’t only think about the warming. Just think about everything else that goes with that warming.”
So what’s in store for 2016? Schmidt said, “Years that start with an El Niño generally have an increase above the trend,” and he expects 2016 to be a warm year as well.
But before squirting on sunscreen or cranking up the air conditioner, steps can be taken to decrease the impacts of a warming planet.
“The way to slow down global warming is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere,” Janetos said. “Emissions from energy production and other combustion of fossil fuels must be slowed substantially to slow warming trends.”
Kaufmann said even taking shorter showers or riding a bike could make all the difference.
“Anything that allows you to use less energy puts less carbon dioxide outside in the atmosphere [and thereby] slows climate change,” he said.
In the wake of this news, Yaelle Sarid-Segal, a junior in the College of Arts and Science, said she views NASA’s recent data as the ultimate wake-up call.
“Given all the scientific evidence we have on a global scale, we still won’t fully commit to carbon emission limits — especially in the [United States],” she said. “In light of the recent Paris [climate deal], I would hope that we realize that this isn’t an issue affecting a nation or two. Rather, we’re all part of the problem and the inevitable consequences.”