How hot was 2020? It depends who you ask, but it was another one for the record books, agencies say

Once again, 2020 was a hot one.

According to NASA and recent findings from the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service, last year tied 2016 as the warmest on record.

It was the second-warmest according to the U.S.-based National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) — with a global average temperature that was 0.98 C higher than the pre-industrial average. 

But the differences between the findings are negligible, the scientists say, with a 0.02 C difference on either side. But the message is still the same: Earth is continuing to warm.

“Year to year, there are always differences,” said Chris Derksen, a senior researcher at Environment and Climate Change Canada. “We don’t always expect every year to break the record set the previous year. But what’s important is the long-term trend and the consistency of this trend that has emerged.”

That long-term trend pegs the past decade as the warmest on record, dating back to 1880. 

The slight differences between the agencies are due to a few factors, including how they analyze the raw temperature data and how they account for missing temperatures in polar regions.

Ultimately, though, “It’s a statistical tie,” Gavin Schmidt, a climatologist and director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said at a news conference on Thursday.

The record heat comes amid almost a year of lockdowns around the globe due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

But the researchers found that didn’t really affect the upward temperature trend.

That’s because Earth is basically playing catch-up with the greenhouse gases that have already been released in the atmosphere, said Ahira Sanchez-Lugo, a physical scientist who compiles global temperature data at NOAA’s National Centres for Environmental Information.

This graphic illustrates how the global land and ocean temperatures differ from the pre-industrial average.(NOAA)

Greenhouse gases live for thousands of years in the atmosphere, acting like a blanket. 

“Just think about yourself, when you’re in bed, and you keep adding extra layers of blanket over you: there’s a point where you’re going to start getting hot,” she said. “[With] COVID, we’ve seen a decrease in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. That does not mean that we’re peeling off these layers that we’ve already added to Earth, it just means that we’re not adding more layers.”

Change in the Arctic

According to NOAA, the Northern Hemisphere experienced its hottest year ever, with the Arctic warming at twice the global average, and some parts as high as three to four times the average.

No one needs to tell Fred Sangris, the community negotiator for the Yellowknife Dene in the Northwest Territories. He said his community is seeing the changes firsthand.

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