Scientists confirmed today that 2016 was the hottest year since record keeping began in 1880, marking the third consecutive year of record warmth across the globe. The average global surface temperature (over both land and ocean) in 2016 was 58.69 degrees F — 1.69 degrees above the 20th-century average and 0.07 degrees above last year’s record.
“That doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you take that and you average it all the way around the planet, that’s a big number,” said Deke Arndt, the head of global climate monitoring at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Last year’s record status was confirmed in three separate analyses by scientists at NOAA, NASA, and the U.K. Met Office. According to NOAA, the annual global temperature record has been broken five times since the start of the 21st century.
Last year’s record warmth was intensified by an El Niño in the Pacific Ocean in the early months of 2016, scientists said, but that the weather pattern alone isn’t solely responsible. The buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has been steadily raising global temperatures for more than half a century now. “A single warm year is something of a curiosity,” Arndt told reporters Wednesday. “It’s really the trend, and the fact that we’re punching at the ceiling every year now, that is the real indicator that we’re undergoing big changes.”
WATCH: The changes in global surface temperatures over the past 137 years.