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'21 ranks in top 10 heat years

by SETH BORENSTEIN THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | January 14, 2022 at 4:22 a.m.
FILE - Vivek Shandas, a professor of climate adaptation at Portland State University, takes a temperature reading of almost 106 degrees in downtown Portland, Ore., on Aug. 12, 2021. On Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released measurements showing 2021 was the sixth hottest year on record globally, part of a long-term warming trend. (AP Photo/Nathan Howard, File)

Earth simmered to the sixth hottest year on record in 2021, according to several newly released temperature measurements. And scientists say the exceptionally hot year is part of a long-term warming trend that shows hints of accelerating.

Two U.S. science agencies -- NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration -- and a private measuring group released their calculations for last year's global temperature on Thursday, and all said it wasn't far behind ultra-hot 2016 and 2020.

Six different calculations found 2021 was between the fifth and seventh hottest year since the late 1800s. NASA reported 2021 tied with 2018 for sixth warmest, while NOAA puts last year in sixth place by itself.

Scientists say a La Nina -- natural cooling of parts of the central Pacific that changes weather patterns globally and brings chilly deep ocean water to the surface -- dampened global temperatures just as its flip side, El Nino, boosted them in 2016.

Still, they said 2021 was the hottest La Nina year on record and that the year did not represent a cooling off of human-caused climate change but provided more of the same heat.

Gavin Schmidt, the climate scientist who heads NASA's temperature team, said "the long-term trend is very, very clear. And it's because of us. And it's not going to go away until we stop increasing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere."

The last eight years have been the eight hottest on record, NASA and NOAA data agree. Global temperatures, averaged over a 10-year period to take out natural variability, are nearly 2 degrees warmer than 140 years ago, their data shows.

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The other 2021 measurements came from the Japanese Meteorological Agency and satellite measurements by Copernicus Climate Change Service in Europe and the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

There was such a distinctive jump in temperatures about eight to 10 years ago that scientists have started looking at whether the rise in temperatures is speeding up. Schmidt said early signs point to that but it's hard to know for sure.

"If you just look at the last the last 10 years, how many of them are way above the trend line from the previous 10 years? Almost all of them," he said in an interview.

There's a 99% chance that 2022 will be among the 10 warmest years on record and a 10% chance it will be the hottest on record, NOAA climate analysis chief Russell Vose said in a Thursday press conference.

While that threshold is important, extreme weather from climate change is hurting people now in their daily lives with about 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit warming, Vose and Schmidt said.

The global average temperature last year was 58.5 degrees, according to NOAA.

North Carolina state climatologist Kathie Dello, who wasn't part of the new reports but said they make sense, said, "I've only lived in a warming world and I wish that the younger generations did not have to say the same. It didn't have to be this way."

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