NewsJanuary 18, 2017

The Temperature Spiral, Now With 2016's Record Heat

Brian Kahn

By Brian Kahn

Follow @blkahn

In news that will surprise nobody, 2016 was the hottest year on record. Scientists predicted it at the start of 2016, and after April they were 99 percent certain. Temperature records continued to fall in the second half of the year with the Arctic running particularly hot.

Now it’s official. Both NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration confirmed on Wednesday that 2016 was the hottest year ever recorded. The U.K. Met Office and Japan Meteorological Agency — the two other gold standards of global temperature monitoring — have also declared 2016 was record hot.

There are line graphs and global maps to make this clear. But if those don’t get the point across that the planet is in a new, strange place, take a look at the temperature spiral. It took the world by storm last year, led to a slew of other climate indicator spirals and made an appearance at the Olympics.

Credit: Ed Hawkins


With all of 2016’s data in the books, it’s an important time to revisit the spiral to see what it shows about our climate. The spiral shows the world’s temperature is spinning closer and closer to a dangerous level of global warming.

Last year was 2°F (1.1°C) above the pre-industrial global average, putting the world halfway to crossing the 2°C threshold outlined as dangerous warming in the Paris Agreement. That’s the third year in a row of record setting heat and the second year that it’s been more than 1°C warmer than the pre-industrial average.

The global average temperature is the clearest sign of how carbon pollution is altering our world. Sea levels are rising, sea ice is disappearing, extreme weather is becoming more common and oceans are acidifying at alarming rates. All of that amounts to people and ecosystems suffering the consequences.

Cutting carbon pollution and transitioning to an economy driven by renewable energy is the main solution. That’s happening — investment in renewables are at a record high and private companies are getting serious about renewables — but the process will need to be accelerated in order to avoid the worst impacts.

The temperature spiral and its climate spiral brethren are a good way to monitor how successful the world’s efforts are.

You May Also Like:
2016 Officially Declared Hottest Year on Record
Interior Nominee Zinke Doubles Down on Coal
Trump Tweeted the Wrong Ivanka. She Gave Him Climate Advice
Beginning of the End of CA Drought, But What’s Next?