Sustainability Climate Change

2019 declared second hottest year on record

2019 declared second hottest year on record
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Story at a glance

  • The Copernicus Climate Change Service, an intergovernmental agency supported by the European Union, has declared 2019 the second hottest year on record.
  • The only year with higher average global temperatures was 2016, which exceeded 2019 by less than one-tenth of a degree.
  • Similar announcements from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the United States are expected later this month.

European scientists have confirmed that 2019 posted the second highest global average temperatures ever recorded. The finding comes after a year of broken temperature records, runaway melting of the Greenland ice sheet and fears of rapidly thawing permafrost, the New York Times reports. The waning days of 2019 also saw scorching heat in Australia, fueling unprecedented wildfires.

Only 2016 was hotter, edging out 2019 by less than one-tenth of a degree Fahrenheit. The milestone marks the continued transformation of Earth’s climate as humanity’s profligate emission of greenhouse gases traps more and more heat within the atmosphere.

“The past five years have been the five warmest on record; the last decade has been the warmest on record,” Jean-Noël Thépaut, director of Copernicus services, said in a statement. “These are unquestionably alarming signs.”

The past year was more than one degree Fahrenheit higher than the average from 1981 to 2010. While most of the globe was warmer than average in 2019, the Arctic, Europe, southern Africa and Australia suffered exceptional heat.

The clearest consequences of 2019’s record setting warmth played out in lost ice and raging fires. Normally ice-covered seas in the Arctic, which is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet, were virtually free of ice for much of the year. 

In Greenland, the year of higher-than-average temperatures and a pronounced heat wave in July resulted in the loss of roughly 300 billion tons of ice — about 60 billion tons more than the recent average. And right now, fires still burning in Australia have killed at least 24 people, consuming an area larger than Denmark and burning millions of animals alive.

The announcement from the Copernicus Climate Change Service, an intergovernmental agency supported by the European Union, comes ahead of what are expected to be similar findings from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the United States.