NASA has analyzed the Earth’s global average surface temperature during 2020 and found that the year tied with 2016 as the warmest year on record. NASA says the planet’s long-term warming trend continued with 2020s global average temperature 1.84 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the baseline 1951 through 1980 mean. NASA says that 2020 edged out 2016 by a tiny amount within the margin of error for the analysis, effectively tying 2020 and 2016 for the warmest year on record.
Goddard Institute for Space Studies director Gavin Schmidt says the last seven years have been the warmest seven years on record, “typifying” the planet’s warming trend. He points out that which year has the record for the warmest isn’t that important. What is important are long-term trends. Schmidt also believes with temperatures trending warmer, and as human impact on the climate increases, records will continue to be broken.
By tracking global temperature trends, scientists have a critical indicator for the impact of human activities, especially greenhouse gas emissions, on the planet. Since the late 19th century, the Earth’s average temperature has risen more than two degrees Fahrenheit. Rising temperatures contribute to the loss of sea ice and ice sheet mass, sea level rise, and longer and more intense heatwaves. Rising temperatures also impact plant and animal habitats.
NASA believes humanity must understand long-term climate trends for the safety and quality of human life. Understanding these trends can help society adapt to the changing environment in various ways, including planting different crops, managing water resources, and preparing for extreme weather events. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration conducted its independent analysis and found that 2020 was the second-warmest year on record, with 2016 in the lead.
NASA and NOAA use the same raw temperature data for their analysis but have a different baseline and methodology. NASA inferred temperature in polar regions that lack observations, which NOAA does not.