The apocalypse may not have arrived in 2016, but it sure as hell felt like it. After setting temperature records two years in a row, scientists this week confirmed 2016 was hotter than any year in recorded history.
The latest data shows an alarming trend in rising temperatures, which rose to an average of 58.69 degrees across the Earth's land and ocean surfaces. That's 1.69 degrees above the average, and the largest margin by which an annual global temperature record has ever been broken, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Scientists say the past year was particularly warm due to the increasing levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. El Nińo, meanwhile, also intensified the weather, said NASA climate scientists Gavin Schmidt.
"A single warm year is something of a curiosity," said Deke Arndy, chief of global monitoring for the NOAA. "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."
What's particularly alarming is that most of the warming has happened in the past 35 years, with 16 of the 17 warmest years occurring since 2001. Scientists say record temperatures were set on nearly every continent and were particularly high in the Arctic, where coastal erosion is rapidly displacing communities.
It's supposed to cool down
Now that El Niño has ended, scientists expect 2017 to cool down, though it still may be a top five warm year for the planet, according to Schmidt. California, a state that has experienced record drought over the past few years, has already seen a lot of rainfall, while other areas around the U.S. have cooled compared to a year ago.
Still, the fact that a temperature record has been set for a third consecutive year has scientists worried.
"No world leader can afford to ignore these results, which show that people all over the globe are being exposed to increasing impact of climate change," explained Bob Ward of the London School of Economics and Political Science. "Any politician who denies this evidence from world-class climate scientists in the United States will be willfully turning a blind eye to rising risks that threaten the lives and livelihoods of their citizens."