NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) predicted yesterday that 2007 will be Earth's second-warmest year on record. The finding adds another troubling statistic to the past decade, which already claims six of the warmest years in the past 128 years, including heat leader 2005.
The figure is a measure of global temperatures, averaged over the year and across land and oceans. As in recent years, the Arctic grew especially warm. Average temperatures there rose more than 3°C above the 1951-1980 mean. (Polar warming is exacerbated in a feedback loop by the loss of ice and snow, which leads to dark water that absorbs more heat from the sun.) The Arctic warming was a major factor in pushing the planet's global mean temperature 0.6°C above the 1951-1980 average.
What makes the degree of warming even more remarkable is that the sun shone less intensely this year. In addition, the Pacific Ocean was cooler than usual, due to a phenomenon called La Niña. "Anthropogenic influences are really strong … despite the internal phenomena of the climate system that are trying to cool the planet," says climate scientist Yochanan Kushnir of Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York.
The sweltering news came as Al Gore, former vice president of the United States, and Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, received the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo for their work to publicize the science and political challenge of climate change. "We are in danger of creating a permanent 'carbon summer,' " Gore told the audience, urging action to fight warming. "It is time to make peace with the planet."