Climate

2014 Headed Toward Hottest Year On Record — Here’s Why That’s Remarkable

CREDIT:

2014 is currently on track to be hottest year on record, according to new reports from both the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the U.K.’s Met Office Wednesday. Similarly, NOAA reported two weeks ago that 2014 is all but certain to be the hottest year on record.

It is not remarkable that we keep setting new records for global temperatures — 2005 and then 2010 and likely 2014. Humans are, after all, emitting record amounts of heat-trapping carbon pollution into the air, and carbon dioxide levels in the air are at levels not seen for millions of years, when the planet was far warmer and sea levels tens of feet higher. The figure above from the Met Office makes clear that humans continue to warm the planet.

“The provisional information for 2014 means that fourteen of the fifteen warmest years on record have all occurred in the 21st century,” said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud. “There is no standstill in global warming.”

As Peter Stott, Head of Climate Attribution at the Met Office, explained: “Our research shows current global average temperatures are highly unlikely in a world without human influence on the climate.” While it has been on the cool side in parts of the United States, the Met Office reported that the United Kingdom is headed toward its hottest year on record. Stott noted that, “human influence has also made breaking the current UK temperature record about ten times more likely.”

What is remarkable, as the WMO explains, is that we’re headed toward record high global temps “in the absence of a full El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO).” We get an El Niño “when warmer than average sea-surface temperatures in the eastern tropical Pacific combine, in a self-reinforcing loop, with atmospheric pressure systems,” which affects weather patterns around the world.

It’s usually the combination of the long-term manmade warming trend and the regional El Niño warming pattern that leads to new global temperature records. But not this year.

Here’s a revealing chart from Skeptical Science courtesy of environmental scientist Dana Nuccitelli of NASA’s temperature data (with the projection for 2014 in black and white):

ENSO temps v2 wTrends

This year we are poised to set the global temperature record in an ENSO-neutral year. And while eastern tropical Pacific sea surface temperatures have been warmer than normal in recent months, those temperatures were colder than normal in the beginning months of the year, so the net effect of ENSO on 2014 global temperatures has been minimal.

As one caveat, different climate-tracking groups around the world use different data sets, so it is possible that at the end of the year, some will merely show 2014 tied for the hottest year on record depending on how warm December turns out to be. For NOAA, however, it’s all but certain 2014 will be the hottest year on record. Either way, it’s remarkable this is happening in an ENSO-neutral year.

Finally, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology reported Friday that their models indicate “at least a 70% chance that El Niño will be declared in the coming months.” If so, then 2015 will very likely top 2014 to become the hottest year on record.

The only way to stop setting new annual temperature records on an increasingly regular basis — until large parts of the planet are uninhabitable — is to sharply change the world’s carbon dioxide emissions path starting ASAP.