The man leading the report was infamous climatologist James Hansen, well-known
as being Al Gore's climate advisor; for his claims that
oil companies were committing "crimes against humanity" by doing
business; and for receiving a $250,000 grant from a
nonprofit run by the wife of Democratic Senator John Kerry.
Hansen states in the report, "If the warming trend continues, as is
expected, if greenhouse gases continue to increase, the 2010 record will not
stand for long."
Much uncertainty remains, however. NASA's data comes from 1000
meteorological stations around the world, satellite observations of sea surface
temperature, and Antarctic research station measurements. But NASA must
choose how to process that data when measurements conflict. In the past,
ground based stations have reportedly shown anomalous heating in select regions (such
as Russia), but NASA chose to throw out or reduce the statistical significance
of satellite measurements, which showed far cooler temperatures.
It is unknown if there are similar discrepancies in this year's temperatures,
but one would hope that the data is carefully scrutinized by independent
interests given Dr. Hansen's vested financial interest in showing the Earth is
warming and mankind is causing it.
If the NASA data holds up, the average surface temperature in 2010 was 1.34
degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the average temperature from 1951 to 1980.
Since the 1970s, NASA says statistics show the Earth to be warming 0.36 degrees
Fahrenheit a decade.
2010 was within 0.018 degrees Fahrenheit of 2005, the previous record holder,
earning it a tie. In a tie for third place are 1998, 2002, 2003, 2006,
2007 and 2009. NASA says its analysis closely matches separate analysis
from the Met Office Hadley Centre in the United Kingdom and the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Climatic Data Center.
Dr. Hansen reports that the record warmth was especially exceptional given that
2010 was the start of a strong La Niña pattern, which brings cool sea
surface temperatures to the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean and should have
offered a cooler global temperature. He states, "Global temperature
is rising as fast in the past decade as in the prior two decades, despite
year-to-year fluctuations associated with the El Niño-La Niña cycle of tropical
While this data might worry some, it could actually be happy news for
mankind. The slow, gradual warming shown in the report would likely over
time open new shipping routes and improve
agricultural viability in many regions. While some areas might be
gradually rendered uninhabitable (e.g. small low-lying islands), humans would
naturally migrate to new homes, and the climate change would likely make some
previously minimally habitable regions more hospitable.
Loss of species from climate change has certainly been suggested as a possible
concern as well, but biodiversity in the Earth's warming periods has increased,
not decreased historically. Current temperatures are still far below
these epochs of lush biodiversity that lie in the Earth's distant past.
The destruction of the rainforest and pollution of the sea have been put on the
back burner during the climate debate, but represent far more serious immediate
threats to our planet's biodiversity.
Other pressing questions include how fast warming will proceed and what other
factors may be at play, besides greenhouse gases. A recent study suggests
that atmospheric dust levels may have significantly different effects on global temperature than
previously thought. Historical levels of atmospheric dust are poorly
understood. Further, it is unknown how much the Earth will dampen
temperature increases. Past history suggests that the Earth's biosphere
resists the kind of run-away warming some experts' models have predicted, at
least to a point.
Despite these distinctions, the NASA report is certainly intriguing and will
likely be keenly observed and analyzed by those in the fields of agriculture
and urban planning.