New government figures for the global climate show that 2010 was the wettest year in the historical record, and it tied 2005 as the hottest year since record-keeping began in 1880.

The new figures confirm that 2010 will go down as one of the more remarkable years in the annals of climatology. It featured prodigious snowstorms that broke seasonal records in the United States and Europe; a record-shattering summer heat wave that scorched Russia; strong floods that drove people from their homes in places like Pakistan, Australia, California and Tennessee; a severe die-off of coral reefs; and a continuation in the global trend of a warming climate.

Two agencies, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), reported on January 12 that the global average surface temperature for 2010 had tied the record set in 2005. The analyses differ slightly; in the NOAA version, the 2010 temperature was 1.12° Fahrenheit above the average for the 20th century, which is 57°.

It was the 34th year running that global temperatures have been above the 20th-century average; the last below-average year was 1976. The new figures show that nine of the 10 warmest years on record have occurred since the beginning of 2001.

The earth has been warming in fits and starts for decades, and a large majority of climatologists say that is because humans are releasing heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

The carbon dioxide level has increased about 40 per cent since the Industrial Revolution.

Greenhouse gases a factor

“The climate is continuing to show the influence of greenhouse gases,” said David R. Easterling, a scientist at NOAA's National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C.

Aside from NASA and NOAA, another agency, a research centre in Britain, compiles a global temperature record. That unit has yet to report its figures for 2010. (The data sets are compiled by slightly different methods, and in the British figures, the previous warmest year on record was 1998.)

The United States was wetter and hotter last year than the average values for the 20th century, but over all the year was not as exceptional in this country as for the world as a whole. In the contiguous United States, for instance, the NOAA figures showed that it was the fourth hottest summer on record and the 23rd hottest year.

Still, some remarkable events occurred at a regional scale, including snowstorms in February 2010 that shattered seasonal records in cities like Washington, Baltimore and Philadelphia.

In the summer, a heat wave broke records in the South and along much of the East Coast.— © New York Times News Service

Keywords: global warming

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