The last seven years on Earth have been the hottest on record with no signs of slowing down, and 2021 ranked the sixth warmest ever, climate researchers at NOAA and NASA announced on Thursday.
This is what climate change caused by human activity looks like, and there’s no end in sight.
“We’re already seeing the impacts of the global warming that we’re talking about now in local weather and in extreme [weather events],” said Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, at a press conference. “We can detect the contribution of human warming on things like the heat waves in the Pacific Northwest, the intense precipitation that accompanied Hurricane Ida, or the floods in Germany and China.”
A similar analysis from European scientists released this week also found the last seven years were the hottest on record, although their specific rankings by year differed slightly. According to the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service, 2021 was the fifth warmest on record.
Last year was an especially deadly and expensive year for climate and weather disasters in the US. Texas saw unmatched freezing temperatures last winter, the Pacific Northwest experienced deadly heat waves, and the South and Midwest faced massive tornadoes, among many other extreme weather events in 2021.
The researchers noted that a climate pattern known as La Niña helped to slightly cool parts of the Pacific Ocean in 2021, which may continue into this year. However, the average temperatures in the last seven years have all leaped over previous decades’ records.
“It’s clear that each of the past four decades have been warmer than the one that preceded it,” Russell Vose, chief of the analysis and synthesis branch of NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, told reporters. “And it’s been a steady increase in temperature since at least the 1960s.”
Climate researchers expect the years ahead to follow this pattern and predict we will reach an increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius in the 2030s or early 2040s. However, regardless of when the globe reaches that temperature, scientists point out that global warming data is no longer just data but is playing out in real life.
The planet has already warmed more than 1 degree Celsius compared to 1880s levels. Time is quickly running out to limit warming another half degree, which is the goal of the Paris climate agreement. Frustration about the lack of action on cutting greenhouse gas emissions came to a head at November’s 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, which left many climate activists and developing countries unsatisfied with minimal progress from larger countries.
“Temperatures will keep rising as long as we keep increasing greenhouse gases,” Schmidt said.
That means 2022 will probably be another hot one, filled with more dangerous disasters.
“We can predict with some confidence that we will see more and more extreme heat waves, more intense rainfall, and more coastal flooding,” Schmidt said. “It may not be the Pacific Northwest next year, but it will be somewhere and we will obviously have to be prepared.”
Just this week, South America and Australia are facing blistering heat waves. Western Australia’s Onslow today hit 123.2 degrees Fahrenheit, or 50.7 degrees Celsius, matching a record-high temperature for the region set back in 1962, the BBC reported. And earlier this week, Buenos Aires reached 106 degrees (or 41.1 degrees Celsius), according to AccuWeather, making it the second-highest temperature recorded there in more than a century.
“There’s probably a 99% chance that 2022 will rank in the top 10 hottest years,” Vose said.