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2012: The Warmest Year on Record in the U.S.

Global surface temperature anomalies, 2012 | Image: NOAA Climate.gov

Another reminder of why getting off fossil fuels is so important: The American Meteorological Society (AMS) has released an annual report on the world's changing climate, and the news is just about as bad as you might expect. 2012 was one of the ten warmest years on record worldwide, and the warmest year on record in the United States.

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The report, published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on it's climate.gov website, has been produced annually for the last 23 years, each year's news seemingly more ominous than the year previous.

The report drew its conclusions about global temperatures from four large datasets of global temperature records. Depending on the dataset being used, 2012's global surface temperatures were either the eighth or ninth highest on record. Those records go back to 1850, but the ten warmest years on record by all four datasets' reckoning have all taken place since 1998.

Global surface temperatures, 2012 | Image: NOAA Climate.gov

Among the report's findings:

  • Sea levels rose to record highs in 2012, more than regaining the slack a couple of successive La Niña cycles caused in sea levels in 2011. Over the last two decades, sea levels have been rising worldwide at a rate of 1/8 inch per year.
  • Arctic sea ice continues to shrink; on September 16, 2012, the extent of ice in the Arctic shrank to the smallest area ever measured by satellite. That's half the average minimum summer ice cover for the years 1979 to 2000.
  • 97 percent of the Greenland Ice Sheet showed signs of melting in 2012, four times the recorded average.
  • North America was the scene of 2012's worst drought, with relatively small amounts of snowmelt and record high summer temperatures.
NOAA's copy of the 258-page PDF document weighs in at a hefty 39.1 megabytes, much of it needless document overhead. With the report's popularity and consequent server load, it took ReWire in excess of half an hour to download the thing. We've made a lower-res version of the report (3 megs) that you can look at here.

We'll be digging into the report this week to see what else we can pull out to share.

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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