Authoritative annual study

Report shows climate records set in 2016. Yes, the world is warming!

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The new State of the Climate report confirms that 2016 was as the warmest year in 137 years of record-keeping. Other climate indicators that set new records include greenhouse gas concentrations, sea level, and sea surface temperature. 

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The new State of the Climate report confirms that 2016 was as the warmest year in 137 years of record-keeping. Other climate indicators that set new records include greenhouse gas concentrations, sea level, and sea surface temperature. 

The State of the Climate report series, published by the American Meteorological Society  for the past 27 years, is the most comprehensive annual summary of Earth’s climate. It provides a detailed update on global climate indicators, notable weather events and other data collected by environmental monitoring stations and instruments located on land, water, ice and in space.

 The full report can be downloaded here [pdf]. The following are highlights, with diagrams from the report.

The report found that the major indicators of climate change continued to reflect trends consistent with a warming planet. Several markers such as land and ocean temperatures, sea level and greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere broke records set just one year prior.

global temperature map 2016

2016 surface temperatures. Global surface temperature in 2016 compared to the 1981-2010 average.

History of global surface temperatures since 1900. Yearly surface temperature since 1900 compared to the 1981-2010 average, based on four independent data sets.

The report’s climate indicators show patterns, changes and trends of the global climate system. Examples of the indicators include various types of greenhouse gases; temperatures throughout the atmosphere, ocean, and land; cloud cover; sea level; ocean salinity; sea ice extent; and snow cover.

Greenhouse gases were the highest on record. Major greenhouse gas concentrations, including carbon dioxide (CO2), methane and nitrous oxide, rose to new record high values during 2016. The global annual average atmospheric CO2 concentration was 402.9 parts per million (ppm), which surpassed 400 ppm for the first time in the modern atmospheric measurement record and in ice core records dating back as far as 800,000 years. This was 3.5 ppm more than 2015, and it was the largest annual increase observed in the 58-year record.


carbon dioxide graph

Global, monthly carbon dioxide since 1980. Global average carbon dioxide each month since 1980.

Global surface temperature highest on record. Aided by the strong El Niño early in the year, the 2016 annual global surface temperature observed record warmth for a third consecutive year, with the 2016 annual global surface temperature surpassing the previous record of 2015. Many places experienced record numbers of extremely hot days.


global map of extreme heat in 2016

Extremely hot days in 2016. The number of extremely warm days (temperature above the 90th percentile in 2016 compared to the 1961-1990 average.

Increasing frequency of very hot days. As the global average temperature has risen, so has the number of extremely hot days that occur each year. This graph tracks the changing frequency of days on which the temperature was in the 90th percentile of the historical record since 1950.


Global lower tropospheric temperature highest on record. In the region of the atmosphere just above the Earth’s surface, the globally averaged lower troposphere temperature was highest on record. Meanwhile, sea surface temperatures were also highest on record. The more recent global sea surface temperature trend for the 21st century-to-date (2000-2016) of +2.92°F (1.62°C) per century is much higher than the longer term (1950-2016) warming trend of +1.8°F (1.0°C) per century.


global map of sea surface temperature in 2016

2016 ocean temperatures set new record high. Ocean surface temperature in 2016 compared to the 1981-2010 average.

graph of sea surface temperature anomalies over time

History of sea surface temperatures since 1900. Sea surface temperature each year since 1900 compared to the 1981-2010 average.


Global upper ocean heat content near-record high. Globally, upper ocean heat content saw a slight drop compared to the record high set in 2015, but reflected the continuing accumulation of thermal energy in the top 2,300 feet (700 meters) of the ocean. Oceans absorb more than 90 percent of Earth’s excess heat from global warming.


Near record high ocean heat storage in 2016. Heat energy in the global ocean in 2016 compared to the 1981-2010 average.


Upper ocean heating faster than deep ocean. Yearly ocean heat storage compared to the 1993 average from a variety of data sets. The upper ocean (surface–2,300 feet; red lines) is picking up heat from the atmosphere more quickly than the deeper ocean (2,300–6,600 feet; orange lines)—consistent with heating from the atmosphere above.


Global sea level highest on record. Global average sea level rose to a new record high in 2016 and was about 3.25 inches (82 mm) higher than the 1993 average, the year that marks the beginning of the satellite altimeter record. This also marks the sixth consecutive year, global sea level has increased compared to the previous year.

Over the past two decades, sea level has increased at an average rate of about 0.13 inch (3.4 mm) per year, with the highest rates of increase in the western Pacific and Indian Oceans.


Sea level patterns in 2016. Global sea level in 2016 compared to the 1993-2016 average.


Meltwater and thermal expansion driving sea level rise. Global sea level since the start of the satellite record in 1993 (black line). Independent estimates of the amount of the trend due to thermal expansion (water volume increasing due to warming) are shown in red. The blue line shows an independent estimate of the amount of water being added to the ocean by melting of ice sheets and glaciers. The purple line shows the sum of the two contributions and how well the estimate matches the satellite observation.

Extremes were observed in the water cycle and precipitation. A general increase in the water cycle (the process of evaporating water into air and condensing it as rain or snow), combined with the strong El Niño, enhanced the variability of precipitation around the world. In addition to many parts of the globe experiencing major floods in 2016, for any given month at least 12 percent of global land was experiencing at least “severe” drought conditions, the longest such stretch in the record.

Drought conditions were observed in northeastern Brazil for the fifth consecutive year, making this the longest drought on record in this region. The increased hydrologic cycle was also reflected, as it has been for more than a decade, by patterns of salinity (saltiness) across the globe’s ocean surface.


global drought map for 2016

Extensive drought in 2016. Areas experiencing drought in 2016 compared to average conditions for that region from 1901-2016.

Record-long stretch of severe drought over 12% of land surface. Percent of the global land area experiencing moderate, severe, or extreme drought each month from 1950–2016.


The Arctic continued to warm; sea ice extent remained low. The average Arctic land surface temperature was 3.6°F (2.0°C) above the 1981-2010 average, breaking the previous record of 2007, 2011 and 2015 by 1.4°F (0.8°C), representing a 6.3°F (3.5°C) increase since records began in 1900. Average sea surface temperatures across the Arctic Ocean during August in ice-free regions ranged from near normal in some regions to around 13° to 14°F (7° to 8°C) above average in the Chukchi Sea and eastern Baffin Bay off the west coast of Greenland, and up to 20°F (11°C) above average in the Barents Sea.

Increasing temperatures have led to decreasing Arctic sea ice extent and thickness. On March 24, the smallest annual maximum sea ice extent in the 37-year satellite record was observed, tying with 2015 at 5.61 million square miles, 7.2% below the 1981-2010 average. On September 10, Arctic sea ice annual minimum extent tied with 2007 for the second lowest value on record, at 1.60 million square miles, 33 percent smaller than average. Arctic sea ice cover remains relatively young and thin, making it vulnerable to continued extensive melt.

Arctic sea ice minimum as of September 10, 2016

Arctic sea ice concentration on the date of the 2016 minimum extent, September 10, 2016.


Antarctic sees record low sea ice extent. During August and November, record low daily and monthly sea ice extents were observed, with the November average sea ice extent significantly smaller (more than 5 standard deviations) than the 1981-2010 average. These record low sea ice values in austral spring 2016 contrast sharply with the record high values observed during 2012-2014.

Ice and snow decliningPreliminary data indicate that 2016 was the 37th consecutive year of overall alpine glacier retreat across the globe, with an average loss of 2.8 feet (852 mm) for the reporting glaciers. Across the Northern Hemisphere, late-spring snow cover extent continued its trend of decline, with new record low April and May snow cover extents for the North American Arctic.

Below the surface, record high temperatures at the 20-meter (65-feet) depth were measured at all permafrost observatories on the North Slope of Alaska and at the Canadian observatory on northernmost Ellesmere Island.


Ice loss from mountain glaciers. Glacier mass balance—the difference between ice lost through melting and ice gained through new snowfall—each year since 1980 (blue bars) for the 44 glaciers in the World Glacier Monitoring Service’s reference network. Data from 2016 are preliminary. The orange lines shows the running total ice mass loss between 1980–2015. These glaciers have lost 18.8 m water equivalent (w.e.), the equivalent of cutting a 21-m (nearly 70-foot) thick slice off the top of the average glacier.


Northern Hemisphere snow cover below average. Monthly snow cover extent over the Northern Hemisphere relative to their 1981-2010 averages.

Tropical cyclones were well above average overall. There were 93 named tropical cyclones across all ocean basins in 2016, well above the 1981-2010 average of 82 storms. Three basins—the North Atlantic and eastern and western North Pacific—experienced above-normal activity in 2016. The Australian basin recorded its least active season since the beginning of the satellite era in 1970.