Scientists from the US-based National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have confirmed that 2019 ranked as the second warmest year on record globally, rounding out a record warm decade for the planet.
In an announcement released overnight, NOAA scientists said that in 2019 global average temperatures were 0.95°C above the 20th century average, extending a period of record warm global temperatures, and was just 0.04°C below the record temperature abnormality observed in 2016.
According to NOAA, the five warmest years on record have all occurred in the period since 2015 and nine of the 10 warmest years occurred since 2005. The only 20th century year among the 10 warmest years on record is 1998, which ranks as the 10th warmest.
2019’s position as the second warmest year on record, below that of only 2016, was confirmed by NOAA, and was also confirmed by leading scientific bodies, including NASA, the World Meteorological Organisation and the British MET Office.
NASA also confirmed that the decade between 2010 and 2019 was the hottest decade on record, while NOAA highlighted the fact that 2019 was the 43rd consecutive year with above average land and ocean temperatures.
The warming temperatures, driven by human activities, primarily the burning of fossil fuels, have continued to have dramatic impacts on the world’s weather and climate systems, including in the polar regions, with both the Arctic and Antarctic oceans recording their second-smallest average annual sea-ice coverage since 1979.
Regions on almost every continent set new extreme temperature records in 2019, including central Europe, Asia, Australia, southern Africa, New Zealand, Alaska, Mexico and eastern South America.
No region of the world recorded its coldest conditions in 2019.
Last week, Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology confirmed that Australia experienced its hottest and driest year on record in 2019, with hot temperatures and prevailing drought fuelling the unprecedented bushfire crisis impacting large parts of the country.
In 2019, Australia’s average temperatures were 1.52 °C above the 1961-1990 average, significantly exceeding the previous record set in 2013, of 1.33°C above average.
Australia started and ended 2019 with extreme temperatures, with the nation recording average maximum temperatures above 40°C on five consecutive days in January.
Australia then set new records for the hottest days experienced by the whole country in December, two days in a row, reaching an average maximum temperature of 41.9°C on 18 December.
“If it seems like we are reporting on a new climate record being broken week after week, it’s because the planet is getting hotter and hotter,” member of the Climate Council, professor Will Steffen said. “It’s a frightening reality.”
According to NOAA, temperature increases in the Oceania region have been accelerating in recent decades, with temperatures increasing at an average rate of 0.12°C per decade since 1910, but this rate has almost doubled to 0.22°C per decade since 1981.
“2019 was consistently warm, but it was book-ended by periods of extreme heat,” Bureau of Meteorology head of climate monitoring Dr Karl Braganza said.
“January last year was the warmest month Australia has ever recorded, while just a few weeks ago in December, we saw the Australia-wide record hottest daily average maximum temperature broken multiple days in a row.”
“At the same time, rainfall deficiencies across large parts of eastern Australia have continued to increase, unfortunately exacerbating both drought conditions and the current bushfires.”
“The other key factor at play is that Australia’s climate has warmed by more than a degree since 1910, which means very warm years like 2019 are now more likely to occur, while the trend in recent decades has been for drier winter and spring seasons in the south,” Dr Braganza added.
The Bureau of Meteorology warned that while the outlook suggests Australia may see some rain throughout the rest of the summer, it is unlikely to see a return to normal rain conditions in parts of Australia currently impacted by drought bushfire, in the near future.
“Unfortunately the outlook is not indicating a widespread return to wetter than average conditions over drought and fire affected parts of eastern Australia. But with the likely return of the monsoon by mid-January for northern Australia, it raises the chances that we could see some periods of higher rainfall move south in the coming months,” Dr Braganza said.
Resulting bushfires over the current summer have so far destroyed more than 6,500 buildings, including more than 2,200 homes, and have taken the lives of 29 people. It has been estimated that more than 1 billion animals have also been killed by bushfires.
Rising global temperatures have been driven by human-induced global warming, with increasing concentrations of greenhouse gasses in the Earth’s atmosphere have worked to trap ever increasing amounts of heat.
According to data published by NOAA, global carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere exceeded 410 parts per million for the first time in modern history in 2019.
“The record heat is a warning. The experts have been telling us for decades that it will get hotter and weather events will get more extreme. The fires, the heat and the smoke must serve as a massive wake up call. We must heed the warnings. To protect Australian communities we must phase out coal, oil and gas, the drivers of climate change,” the Climate Council’s CEO Amanda McKenzie added.