NOAA And NASA: 2012 Warmest ‘La Niña Year’ On Record, Sustaining Long-Term Climate Warming Trend

NOAA: La Niña, which is defined by cooler-than-normal waters in the eastern and central equatorial Pacific Ocean that affect weather patterns around the globe, was present during the first three months of 2012…. It was also the warmest year on record among all La Niña years. The three warmest annual ocean surface temperatures occurred in 2003, 1998, and 2010—all warm phase El Niño years.

Global surface temperature anomalies relative to 1951-1980. The Nino index is based on the temperature in the Nino 3.4 area in the eastern tropical Pacific5. Dark green triangles mark the times of volcanic eruptions that produced an extensive stratospheric aerosol layer. Via NASA.

What follows is a NASA news release.

NASA Finds 2012 Sustained Long-Term Climate Warming Trend

NASA scientists say 2012 was the ninth warmest of any year since 1880, continuing a long-term trend of rising global temperatures. With the exception of 1998, the nine warmest years in the 132-year record all have occurred since 2000, with 2010 and 2005 ranking as the hottest years on record.

NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York, which monitors global surface temperatures on an ongoing basis, released an updated analysis Tuesday that compares temperatures around the globe in 2012 to the average global temperature from the mid-20th century. The comparison shows how Earth continues to experience warmer temperatures than several decades ago.

The average temperature in 2012 was about 58.3 degrees Fahrenheit (14.6 Celsius), which is 1.0 F (0.6 C) warmer than the mid-20th century baseline. The average global temperature has risen about 1.4 degrees F (0.8 C) since 1880, according to the new analysis.

Scientists emphasize that weather patterns always will cause fluctuations in average temperature from year to year, but the continued increase in greenhouse gas levels in Earth’s atmosphere assures a long-term rise in global temperatures. Each successive year will not necessarily be warmer than the year before, but on the current course of greenhouse gas increases, scientists expect each successive decade to be warmer than the previous decade.

“One more year of numbers isn’t in itself significant,” GISS climatologist Gavin Schmidt said. “What matters is this decade is warmer than the last decade, and that decade was warmer than the decade before. The planet is warming. The reason it’s warming is because we are pumping increasing amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.”

Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that traps heat and largely controls Earth’s climate. It occurs naturally and also is emitted by the burning of fossil fuels for energy. Driven by increasing man-made emissions, the level of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere has been rising consistently for decades.

The carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere was about 285 parts per million in 1880, the first year in the GISS temperature record. By 1960, the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration, measured at NOAA’s Mauna Loa Observatory, was about 315 parts per million. Today, that measurement exceeds 390 parts per million.

This map represents global temperature anomalies averaged from 2008 through 2012. (Visualization credit: NASA Goddard's Scientific Visualization Studio)

While the globe experienced relatively warm temperatures in 2012, the continental U.S. endured its warmest year on record by far, according to NOAA, the official keeper of U.S. weather records.

“The U.S. temperatures in the summer of 2012 are an example of a new trend of outlying seasonal extremes that are warmer than the hottest seasonal temperatures of the mid-20th century,” GISS director James E. Hansen said. “The climate dice are now loaded. Some seasons still will be cooler than the long-term average, but the perceptive person should notice that the frequency of unusually warm extremes is increasing. It is the extremes that have the most impact on people and other life on the planet.”

The temperature analysis produced at GISS is compiled from weather data from more than 1,000 meteorological stations around the world, satellite observations of sea-surface temperature, and Antarctic research station measurements. A publicly available computer program is used to calculate the difference between surface temperature in a given month and the average temperature for the same place during 1951 to 1980. This three-decade period functions as a baseline for the analysis. The last year that experienced cooler temperatures than the 1951 to 1980 average was 1976.

The GISS temperature record is one of several global temperature analyses, along with those produced by the Met Office Hadley Centre in the United Kingdom and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C. These three primary records use slightly different methods, but overall, their trends show close agreement.

— NASA news release

29 Responses to NOAA And NASA: 2012 Warmest ‘La Niña Year’ On Record, Sustaining Long-Term Climate Warming Trend

  1. wili says:

    Last I heard, the expected El Nino for this year was kind of fizzling (in a way that baffled many observers).

    Has this continued to be true, or are we heading into a real El Nino year at this point?

  2. Steve in Miami says:

    Reuters just reported this, but failed to mention the fact that that it was the warmest La Nina year.

    They also said in their report, “Despite evidence that human activities that emit carbon dioxide contribute to climate change, some skeptics maintain that the rise in global temperatures is due to natural variability or other non-human factors. Others question whether temperatures are in fact rising.”

    And they ended with this:

    “Arctic sea ice – an important global weather-maker – shrank to its smallest size ever in 2012…

    By contrast, Antarctic sea ice was above average for most of 2012.”

    Anyone who reads the Reuters piece is left thinking, “so the Arctic is losing ice, the Antarctic is gaining ice, it’s only the 9th warmest year on record, and there are still many who say temperatures aren’t rising.

    Global warming must not be that big of a deal.”

    Damn you Reuters for not doing basic research before spewing your denier nonsense!

  3. From Peru says:

    Wasn’t 2012 an ENSO neutral year, (also known as “La Nada”)?

  4. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    I suspect that climate derangement has proceeded to the stage where ENSO, El Ninos and La Ninas, and much beside, are no longer ‘operational’. Great chaos is looming, with severe swings from one state to another.

  5. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    La Bruja.

  6. David B. Benson says:

    I think we are back to neutral.

  7. David B. Benson says:

    NCDC classified in as La Nina due to the first three months.

  8. David B. Benson says:

    I encourage a Climate Progress post based on

    Global temperature evolution 1979–2010
    Grant Foster and Stefan Rahmstorf
    Environ. Res. Lett. 6 044022 doi:10.1088/1748-9326/6/4/044022

    and possibly including the follow on paper by these authors.

  9. Colorado Bob says:

    MM –

    Whitehorse ( Yukon Territory) recorded its warmest-ever temperature in January yesterday at 10.9 C.

    Sunday morning Mount Washington in New Hampshire, recorded their warmest-ever temperature in January, at 6 AM in the morning. The giant slow moving loops in the Jet Stream we are seeing is really pretty amazing

  10. Colorado Bob says:

    In the past 20 years, Pine Island Glacier’s grounding line, the location where the glacier leaves bedrock and meets the ocean, has retreated at a rate of more than 1 kilometer a year. The glacier itself has thinned at a rate of 5 feet (1.5 meters) a year since the 1990s, and its flow rate has accelerated by 30 percent in the past 10 years. ………… “We can show that the present grounding-line retreat is really exceptional over a longer time scale, over the last 10,000 years,” he said. “In the previous 10,000 years, the grounding line retreated by just about 90 kilometers (56 miles), but in the last 20 years, it retreated by 25 kilometers (15 miles).”

    Rapid retreat of Antarctica glacier is called ‘unprecedented’

  11. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Thanks, Bob. You are an invaluable resource, even if your facts are deeply worrying.

  12. Bruce S says:

    The Pacific is currently in the cold water phase of the PDO cycle. The big big El Ninos in 82-83 and 98 were in the warm water PDO phase of 1972-2000. It may be another decade until we return to the warm phase of the PDO but when we do so the extra heat we are sinking into the oceans will deliver lethal heat spikes to the Calif coast. Lethal to sea urchins and starfish like the El Ninos 20-30 years ago but with higher heat spikes lethal to a larger list of species.

  13. John McCormick says:

    Mike Roddy, this Reuters piece is precisely what you and others have been wanting to take on with a blast of truth and exposure.

    Sorry, no money there for a truth squad. The champaigne tab at the Oscars would cover that work for a year.

    No, wait. Sierra Club bagged $25 million from Chesapeake Energy to include fracking in its environmental agenda. So, there is money out there, just going to the wrong people who have priorities backwards. Us chumps get ignored.

  14. Joan Savage says:

    I know what you meant, but we are not back to neutral, we may never live to see back to neutral.

    The recent La Niña was hotter than the 1996 El Niño. Although the article quoted Jim Hansen comparing recent temperatures to mid-century we need look back only 17 years!

    Things are changing rapidly, and Hansen has made a much more recent statement:

    Global Temperature Update Through 2012
    15 January 2013
    J. Hansen, M. Sato, R. Ruedy
    Summary. Global surface temperature in 2012 was +0.56°C (1°F) warmer than the 1951-1980 base period average, despite much of the year being affected by a strong La Nina. Global temperature thus continues at a high level that is sufficient to cause a substantial increase in the frequency of extreme warm anomalies. The 5-year mean global temperature has been flat for a decade, which we interpret as a combination of natural variability and a slowdown in the growth rate of the net climate forcing.

  15. Joan Savage says:

    Correction: 1995 El Niño, not 1996.

  16. wili says:

    Thanks for the info, Bruce. Where do you go to for your data and analyses on these phenomena?

    Does the fact that “the Pacific is currently in the cold water phase of the PDO cycle” mean that the ocean has been absorbing much of the GW heating for the last decade?

    Does that mostly explain the ‘plateau’ that Hansen et al describe in the passage cited above by Joan above?

  17. David Goldstein says:

    can you give more insight to Hansen’s quote? I was over at a huffpost article about the 9th warmest year and many deniers were using the Hansen quote as evidence that it has ‘stopped warming’- I am sure that is not what he meant, but I would like more insight…would the slowdown in net climate forcing be due to lower insolation or possibly greater aerosal blocking?

  18. Bruce S says:

    Wili, I have been a fisherman and farmer all my life. 8 years ago when the first hint of ocean acidification made it’s way into the literature I decided to write an article for The National Fisherman. At the time the problems with oyster recruitment were not attributed to O/A. In my research I contacted Andy Knoll ( Harvard)and he was willing to check some of my numbers ( ocean chemistry can be a little daunting ). I asked for some advice and he said , pay good attention to what you are witnessing. The purple sea urchin and starfish mortalities were die-offs I watched, I have also seen fish kills from anoxic events. We are trying integrate fishermen’s observations into biological and chemical data-sets collected in the Calif. current Eco-system. The PDO cycle has been studied for decades. It has huge impacts on fish stocks and fish managers use it to forecast population trends for Sardines, anchovy,and productivity of the southern end of the Calif. current. The sardine crash in 1945 was largely an artifact of the end of the warm phase of the PDO. It is just my opinion but when we switch into the warm phase next time we are going to get some giant El Nino events. Projections from a fisherman need to be viewed I suppose with skepticism but watching ocean cycles and weather patterns are part and parcel of successfully forecasting where and when to go catch fish. Old fishermen sometimes have an uncanny ability at forecasting things, farmers also talley the signs and gamble on their decisions. The signs are screaming at us right now and although I very much value science sometimes you gotta jump without 90% confidence.

  19. Jeb says:

    Planetary ice melt pouring a gazillion Niagara Falls of near freezing water into the oceanic currents is affecting ENSO and all teleconnections, which are only fluctuations in the surface temp of ocean waters. Look at the shortened durations between La Nina over the decades, the increasing varied durations and strength of both ENSOs. El Nino is the warm cycle, La Nino is the cool cycle. Makes sense that the ice melt is impacting El Nino…

  20. David Lewis says:

    The Hansen paper in question is here.

    Hansen is using the term “global warming standstill” to describe “the 5 yr running mean of global temperature”, which he says “has been flat for the past decade”. He says: “It should be noted that the standstill temperature is at a much higher level than existed at any year in the prior decade except for the single year 1998 which had the strongest El Nino of the century”.

    He points to “increased (negative) aerosol forcing” as a “plausible” explanation, but concludes, because the global ocean data proves that “it is known that the planet has been out of energy balance”, i.e. “more energy coming in from the sun than energy being radiated out to space” (he cites Hansen Earth’s energy imbalance and implications), that “the more important factor” in what he is looking at “is probably unforced dynamical variability, essentially climatic noise“.

    His conclusion, that it could be increased aerosols but in the end he has to say he’s looking at noise, is another way of saying he doesn’t understand. He doesn’t have enough data. Hansen ends this most recent assessment by pointing out that “the one major wild card in projections of future climate change is the unmeasured forcing due to aerosol changes”, noting that “the one satellite mission” capable of measuring “was lost via a launch failure” and that there are no plans for a replacement mission.

    I think all this focus on the global average surface temperature chart that supposedly indicates whether “global warming” is continuing or has stopped is inappropriate, and I blame eminent scientists for not writing and speaking precisely enough. Eg: Hansen is calling the “standstill” in “the 5 yr running mean of global temperature” a “global warming standstill”, when what is happening in the global ocean is not directly recorded in that chart, and the global ocean is where 90% of the incoming heat is accumulating. Small changes in heat distribution in the global ocean as currents change, i.e. ENSO El Nino/La Nina, for instance, have significant effects on the global average surface temperature chart, but not on the rate at which the planetary system is actually warming up. Obviously, Hansen knows what he is talking about, but many people paying attention to him don’t.

  21. David Goldstein says:

    I assume you all saw that release of 2012 as the 9th/10th hottest year. Did you see Hansen’s climate about the flattening of the slope over the past decade or so? You know- this ‘flattening’ is coming at a very interesting time and it brings up a question that I am getting all sorts of responses to on climate blogs. Of course, the most common explanation is the La Nina/El Nino variations where La Nina has been more prevelant recently. But it seems that folks are not talking about the Asian aerosal forcings as much. This is strange to me, because Kevin Anderson in his famos lecture (famous to us anyway) said, in no uncertain terms, that the aerosals current mask ‘110%’ of the warming according to studies. It ‘feels’ to me that scientists are not clear and on the same page around all this and, at the same time, are not coming out and just saying , ‘well, we don’t know, it could be the aerosals, it could be heat sequestered in the oceans, a bit of both…”

  22. wili says:

    Thanks. You do seem to have your finger on the pulse of the ocean.

  23. wili says:

    Thanks for pointing these out.

    Rahmstorf recently ended a piece at RealClimate by emphasizing how immature the science of ice-sheet behavior is.

    I think what both are trying to get across, besides just being honest, is that there are potential big unknowns on the down side in climate change–we could have surprises we can’t anticipate both in sudden catastrophic sea level rise and in sudden devastating global temperature rise.

    Contrary to the comforting conclusions that denialists tend to want to rush to, uncertainty in climate is not likely to be our friend.

  24. Joan Savage says:

    Hansen et al discussed several factors affecting air temperature, including the two you mentioned, but they cover more factors, so I’d be more comfortable if you read it – it’s only seven pages. One graph reveals that humans really did get a couple of things right – cutting back on ozone destroying gases and limiting methane release.

    Hansen et al make a familiar statement that I read with new eyes. “The planetary energy imbalance is due largely to the increase of climate forcings in prior decades and the great thermal inertia of the ocean.”

    As the temperature plateau is about air temperature, it does not indicate a mass balance of all heat accumulation. We could benefit from an update of ocean heat accumulation, during the time of the atmospheric plateau.

    Trends such as loss of phytoplankton albedo, ocean area exposed to sunlight in the Arctic, as well as heat storage deeper in the ocean, suggest that the ocean could be accumulating W/m2 in a different pattern than in the past.

    Here’s hoping some researchers are actually working on answers.

  25. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Bruce, the highly tuned observations of people like yourself have often served as early warnings of serious problems and should be widely publicized and incorporated into the science which can take years to catch up, ME

  26. Bruce S says:

    Wili and ME.
    I mentioned sea urchin and starfish die-off’s in Southern Calif. during El Ninos 82-83 and 98. Biologists tracked the mortality to vibrio infections. The ocean doesn’t respond like a field of corn in a heatwave, heat causes stress which slowly weakens animals resistance. I have heard it called a trigger and kill mechanism. The trigger is heat which can also reduce O2 but the kill mechanism is disease.

    Sent from my iPad

  27. Channing Dutton says:

    Thank you David. The use of the phrase “Global Warming Standstill” as a section heading is unfortunate. That word standstill is a great source of comfort for those who wish to keep their head deep in the sand. Even more damaging is the technical description which follows but which lacks the discussion of El Nino patterns, increased air pollution in China/India reflecting sunlight, and the ocean example David sets out above.

    All this does it lead to confusion from educated, but uninformed readers. I showed this report to my wife with the purpose of looking at the decadel charts in Fig. 3. She flips the page over, sees the standstill heading and reaches her conclusion. Hansen writes about the need for clarity in these technical messages but I don’t think they got this one right.

  28. Monta Zengerle says:

    We may be hurting our cause by the phrase “Save the Planet”. The planet will remain no matter the extent of warming. It is the biota in impacted regions, including humanity, we should be primarily concerned about.

  29. Gary Kujat says:

    Changes were made during the Dust Bowl era that kept the midwest from turning into a desert. One simple solution woild be to plant more trees, Billions of seeds fall from trees each year. Some of those seeds could be collect by children to grow trees for fund raisers. Last fall I planted 20 maple trees at a local park. These trees will produce billions of more seeds