Last year was one of the top 10 warmest ever recorded and broke numerous climate-related records, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s annual State of the Climate report.
In a press conference Tuesday, Kathryn Sullivan, acting NOAA administrator and co-author of the report, said the findings in the report paint a picture of a “new normal” for the Earth, and could help shape U.S. policy for addressing and becoming more resilient to the impacts of climate change.
The peer-reviewed report, which was released Tuesday, painted a sobering picture of climate change, with record sea-level rise, Arctic melting, and warming oceans. Globally, 2012 ranked either as the 8th or 9th warmest year ever recorded, depending on what dataset was used. The report also found summer Arctic sea ice reached a record low — 18 percent lower than the previous record — in 2012, due in part to the Arctic continuing to warm at about twice the rate of other areas.
“Many of the planning models used in infrastructure planning count on the future being statistically a lot like the past,” Sullivan said. Trends of temperature increases and sea level rise highlighted in the report should challenge those models and should be used as reference for city planners, especially on the coast. Sullivan also warned that the U.S. should be prepared for the likelihood that extreme weather events will only get more intense and more frequent as the planet warms.
The report noted several other climate records broken in 2012:
— 2012 was the warmest year on record for the U.S., and all of North America was marked by “unusual warmth.” Canada experienced its fifth warmest year, while Mexico experienced its second.
— Sea level rise reached a record high in 2012, an increase largely driven by ice melt — the report’s authors noted during the press conference that over the past two years, ice melt has contributed twice as much to sea level rise as thermal expansion has.
— Ocean heat content in the upper 2,300 feet of the ocean remained near record high levels in 2012, and average sea surface temperatures were among the 11 warmest on record. The ocean’s absorption of heat has been pointed to as one possible reason why global average surface temperatures have remained relatively stable for the past decade.
— The temperatures of permafrost in northern Alaska reached record highs in 2012 — a fact that’s particularly troubling, given the vast amounts of methane and CO2 stored in permafrost.
— The world emitted a record 9.7 pentagrams — about 9.7 quadrillion grams — of carbon pollution in 2012. And in May, the world reached a dreaded milestone, recording 400 ppm of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at the Mauna Loa Observatory.
The impacts of these dramatic changes are already being felt across the globe: Greenland, Alaska and China have experienced record-high temperatures this month, and lack of sea ice is stranding baby seals and starving polar bears.