A polar bear stands on sea ice in Alaska's Beaufort Sea in 2010.

A polar bear stands on sea ice in Alaska's Beaufort Sea in 2010. Dr. Pablo Clemente-Colon/NOAA National Ice Center file photo

NOAA: 2015 Was Hottest Year on Record

As the Obama administration gears up to protect its climate accord, scientists issue a warning.

Glob­al tem­per­at­ures in 2015 were the warmest since re­cord-keep­ing began—and it wasn’t even close.

Ac­cord­ing to new data from the Na­tion­al Ocean­ic and At­mo­spher­ic Ad­min­is­tra­tion and NASA, av­er­age tem­per­at­ures over land and ocean were 1.62 de­grees Fahren­heit (or 0.9 de­grees Celsi­us) above the 20th-cen­tury av­er­age, clear­ing the pre­vi­ous re­cord by 0.29 de­grees Fahren­heit. That’s the largest mar­gin by which any an­nu­al tem­per­at­ure re­cord has been broken.

In 2015, 10 months set re­cord high tem­per­at­ures, in­clud­ing Decem­ber, and the five highest mar­gins of heat for any month all oc­curred in 2015, ac­cord­ing to NOAA’s data.

It fol­lows an alarm­ing trend. Sci­ent­ists said last year that 2014 was the hot­test year on re­cord, and now nine of the 10 hot­test years on re­cord have oc­curred since 2000 (1998 is the sole ex­cep­tion). Six­teen of the last 18 years have been warm­er than 1997, which at the time was the hot­test on re­cord, and the Earth has set four an­nu­al heat re­cords in the last 11 years.

“We’re really look­ing at a long-term trend, and this is just a symp­tom of a long-term trend,” said Gav­in Schmidt, dir­ect­or of NASA’s God­dard In­sti­tute for Space Stud­ies. Fol­low­ing the trend—com­bined with the ef­fect of the El Niño weath­er pat­tern—sci­ent­ists pro­ject that 2016 could top 2015’s re­cord.

The odds of a re­cord-set­ting 2016? “I’d give you bet­ter than evens,” Schmidt said.

El Niño con­trib­uted to the spike in this year’s av­er­age tem­per­at­ures, but NASA and NOAA pro­jec­ted that 2015 would have topped re­cords even without it.

An animation from NOAA shows the heat across the United States through 2015 by month/ NOAA NATIONAL CENTERS FOR ENVIRONMENTAL INFORMATION

The news serves to un­der­score the idea that this could be a pivotal year on cli­mate-change policy. After coun­tries reached a land­mark ac­cord to lim­it the rise in the Earth’s tem­per­at­ures at the end of last year, the work now turns to im­ple­ment­ing—and pro­tect­ing—the agree­ment. In the U.S., that largely means fight­ing off at­tacks from Re­pub­lic­ans in Con­gress to over­turn Pres­id­ent Obama’s en­vir­on­ment­al reg­u­la­tions, not­ably the car­bon-emis­sion lim­its on power plants.

Pres­id­ent Obama even made ref­er­ence to the heat re­cord—which sci­ent­ists had been pre­dict­ing for months—in his State of the Uni­on ad­dress last week.

“But even if the plan­et wasn’t at stake; even if 2014 wasn’t the warmest year on re­cord — un­til 2015 turned out even hot­ter — why would we want to pass up the chance for Amer­ic­an busi­nesses to pro­duce and sell the en­ergy of the fu­ture?” Obama said.

The White House will be work­ing in Obama’s fi­nal year to get states on board with the Clean Power Plan (the rule’s ini­tial dead­line for states to sub­mit com­pli­ance plans is this sum­mer), but it also has plans to roll out more en­ergy-ef­fi­ciency rules and po­ten­tial reg­u­la­tions on meth­ane emis­sions. 

Among the im­pacts of the re­cord heat, sci­ent­ists said, was the ex­treme pre­cip­it­a­tion that made May the wet­test month of any on re­cord and caused flood­ing across the U.S. The sci­ent­ists also poin­ted to some an­om­alies in storm pat­terns, like the first sim­ul­tan­eous ap­pear­ance of three storms in the Pa­cific basin at the end of Au­gust, or the late-Novem­ber ap­pear­ance of Hur­ricane Sandra in the East­ern North Pa­cific ocean, the latest ob­served ap­pear­ance since re­cords began in 1971.

The ex­treme heat also con­trib­uted to melt­ing Arc­tic and Ant­arc­tic sea ice.

The glob­al tem­per­at­ure news also comes as the Demo­crats run­ning for pres­id­ent have vowed to go above and bey­ond the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s cli­mate re­cord.

Re­pub­lic­ans, mean­while, have shown little en­thu­si­asm for any cli­mate ac­tion and many front-run­ners are scorn­ful of any sci­entif­ic meas­ure­ment. Sen. Ted Cruz, who leads in some polls in the Iowa caucuses, said on Tues­day that cli­mate change was the  “per­fect pseudosci­en­tif­ic the­ory” backed by “big-gov­ern­ment politi­cians,” and he has glee­fully cast doubt on cli­mate sci­ence.

Cruz and oth­er high-pro­file cli­mate doubters have poin­ted to a sup­posed glob­al-warm­ing “pause” in the years since 1998, but the new data adds more evid­ence that the slow­down was not in­dic­at­ive of any per­man­ent change.

Thomas Karl, dir­ect­or of NOAA’s Na­tion­al Cen­ters for En­vir­on­ment­al In­form­a­tion, said that the latest data showed that warm­ing has con­tin­ued since that peri­od in line with pre­vi­ous trends, and warned that the world may “see in the fu­ture … a change in fre­quency of ex­treme weath­er events” as a res­ult.