Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

2010 the Hottest on Record


Yet another warm year gives the climate change deniers something to ponder

The World Meteorological Organization has confirmed that 2010 ranked as the warmest year on record, together with 2005 and 1998. In 2010, global average temperature was 0.53°C above the 1961-90 mean.

These statistics are based on data sets maintained by the UK Meteorological Office Hadley Centre/Climatic Research Unit (HadCRU), the U.S. National Climatic Data Center (NCDC), and the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Over the 10 years from 2001 to 2010, global temperatures have averaged 0.46°C above the 1961-1990 average, and are the highest ever recorded for a 10-year period since the beginning of instrumental climate records.

2010 was an exceptionally warm year over much of Africa and southern and western Asia, and in Greenland and Arctic Canada, with many parts of these regions having their hottest years on record. Over land, few parts of the world were significantly cooler than average in 2010, the most notable being parts of northern Europe and central and eastern Australia.

"This is cause for concern," said Professor Matthew England, Joint Director of the University of New South Wales Climate Change Research Centre. "With much of the year in a cool La Niña phase, 2010 was not expected to break the temperature records of 2005 and 1998. Taken together with other observations, such as accelerating ice melt, increased humidity, more extreme events and rising sea-levels, climate change is progressing at what should be seen as an alarming rate."

Associate Professor Kevin Walsh of the School of Earth Sciences at the University of Melbourne said: “This result is not surprising and is consistent with the warming expected from anthropogenic climate change.”

Ian Lowe, Emeritus Professor of science, technology and society at Griffith University, President of the Australian Conservation Foundation and Australasian Science columnist said: “The data confirm the warming trend that has been evident for several decades. For 25 years, climate science has been warning that we would experience increasing average temperatures, rising sea levels, changing rainfall patterns and more frequent extreme events: droughts, heatwaves, severe bushfires and floods.

"Given the events we are seeing with an increase in average global temperature of about 0.8° over pre-industrial levels, we should be worried about even the optimistic view that we might stabilise the temperature at 2° above those levels (i.e. another 1.2° from where we are now).

"We should be terrified about the consequences of the much greater warming that would be the result if the present inaction continues. In the context of recent extreme events, it is the height of irresponsibility to be considering new coal mines, coal-fired power stations and coal seam gas operations. We should be urgently driving the transition to renewable energy and urging concerted global action to slow down the warming of the Earth.”

Professor Steven Sherwood of the Climate Change Research Centre at the University of New South Wales said: “There is now a statistical dead heat for the warmest year globally, between 1998, 2005, and 2010. More important, however, is the continuing, underlying warming trend that continues as predicted from the net heating of the planet by added greenhouse gases.

"Every year since 2000 would have broken the record that stood in 1997, and the last decade was the warmest on record (and probably for thousands of years). I am confident that a new annual record will be set some time in the coming years, as the system hasn't even caught up with the greenhouse gases already emitted.”

Professor Jean Palutikof, Director of the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility at Griffith University, said: “The news that 2010 was one of the warmest years on record will not be a huge surprise to climate scientists, except to cause them to reflect that, in a La Niña year, it's an indicator of how rapidly things are happening. The greater challenge now is to understand how the worldwide devastating floods of 2010 and now 2011 relate to global warming and climate change.”