Last year was Earth’s warmest on record, according to an international climate report issued Thursday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that documents other record-breaking global warming trends of 2016.
The report is the most comprehensive assessment of the effects of climate change released by the Trump administration, and it could make it easier to refute efforts from the president and his Cabinet members to publicly discount climate science as they have frequently done in the past. However, the annual report does not detail the link between climate change and human activities such as burning coal or gasoline. Those conclusions are drawn in a separate draft portion of the National Climate Assessment highlighted by The New York Times earlier this week.
The “State of the Climate” publication, which confirms findings released before President Donald Trump was sworn in, outlines the observed outcomes of swiftly rising temperatures. They include the highest sea levels ever recorded, extremes in rain cycles and declines in global ice and snow cover. The nearly 500 authors convened by NOAA explain the effects that are due both to long-term global warming and shorter-term weather events like El Niño.
Last year was the third in a row to break global temperature records, the NOAA report found.
“This is basically like an annual physical of the climate system,” said report co-editor Deke Arndt, NOAA’s climate monitoring chief.
It “compiles the facts the data the observations from around the climate system and puts it in an annual manuscript,” he said.
Trump has referred to climate change as a “hoax,” and his environment and energy secretaries have plans to host a public debate of the science that have generated outcry among some climate scientists who say the human-caused climate change is definitely happening. EPA chief Scott Pruitt said his review could happen as soon as this fall.
"The American people deserve an honest, open, transparent discussion about this supposed threat to this country,” Pruitt said on a North Dakota radio show Wednesday.
NOAA and NASA in January combined their data to announce 2016 was the hottest year so far, but the new report backs that finding up with science from around the world. NOAA, which is under the Commerce Department, stands out among other federal agencies. NOAA earlier this year released its annual Greenhouse Gas Index. The EPA, on the other hand, has removed climate change information from its website.
NOAA said last year’s heat record is “from the combined influence of long-term global warming and a strong El Niño early in the year.”
"Several markers such as land and ocean temperatures, sea level and greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere broke records set just one year prior," NOAA said.
Ardnt explained that NOAA doesn’t specify what warming is from climate change and what is from weather events.
“The long-term climate change is like riding up an escalator over time, and things like El Niño and La Niña are like jumping up and down on that escalator,” Arndt said.
The Times reported that some scientists are worried the Trump administration could suppress or interfere with climate science reports like the National Climate Assessment, which is required by law to be issued next year. Authors of the subsection of that report, however, said they’ve seen no sign that might happen. Arndt, who has been working on the NOAA annual report for eight years, said it includes the “same general material,” and underwent the “same general process.”
Brenda Ekwurzel, the director of climate science for the Union of Concerned Scientists who was not involved with the report, said it is “almost at the level of the daily weather report you get.” NOAA releases monthly data, too.
“This is typical, and it’s ironic that people make a big ado about the big reports that kind of tie it all together,” she said.
Ekwurzel said the government has a responsibility to inform people of the risks of man-made climate change.
The report includes science from nearly 60 countries and will appear in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society and on NOAA social media feeds.
Among its findings:
— Greenhouse gas concentrations are higher than ever recorded. Between 2015 and 2016, carbon dioxide concentrations saw their biggest annual increase in the 58 years on record, reaching peaks not seen in the last 800,000 years of ice core measurements.
— Global surface temperatures are the highest on record.
— Sea levels are the highest they’ve ever been since recordkeeping began. Global seas are about 3.25 inches higher than the 1993 average when satellite recording began. 2016 marks the sixth year that sea levels have risen.
— Precipitation cycles are becoming more extreme.
— The Arctic is warming faster than the rest of the world.
— Antarctic sea ice levels are lower than ever recorded.
— Alpine glaciers have declined for 37 consecutive years. Glaciers shrunk an average of 2.8 feet.
— There were more tropical cyclones, with 93 storms in 2016, compared to an average of 82 between 1981 and 2010.