Animated: 140 Years of Global Surface Temperatures
For hundreds of years, Earth’s average surface temperature has been steadily increasing. And over the last decade, this global heating appears to have intensified.
Since 1880, the global average temperature has risen by an average of 0.08°C (0.14°F) every 10 years, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
But since 1981, warming has been occurring at more than twice that rate, by about 0.18°C (0.32°F) per decade.
This graphic by Pablo Alvarez shows 140 years of global surface temperatures, highlighting the 10 coldest and warmest years from 1880-2021 using data from NOAA.
Global Surface Temperatures Over Time
Over the last century and a half, there have been fluctuations in global surface temperatures, with some of the coolest years on record occurring in the late 19th century and early 20th century.
However, the last two decades have seen unprecedented warming, with the 10 warmest years on record all occurring within the last 20 years. Here’s a look at the 10 hottest years since 1800, and how they compared to the 20th century average:
The 10 Warmest Years
|Rank||Year||Deviation from 20th Century Avg. (°C)|
As of this article’s publication, the warmest year on record was 2016, when temperatures were +0.99°C (1.78°F) above the 20th century average. After 2016, the second warmest year was 2020, when surface temperatures reached +0.97°C (1.75°F) higher than the previous century’s average.
What Factors Impact Earth’s Climate?
There are a number of natural factors that influence global surface temperatures, including phenomena such as:
- Volcanic activity
- Changes in the Earth’s orbit
- Shifts in ocean currents
However, scientists believe that our current rate of warming has been undoubtedly caused by human influence, especially because of our carbon and other greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
According to the most recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), “observed increases in well-mixed greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations since around 1750 are unequivocally caused by human activities.”
In other words, while Earth’s surface temperature naturally fluctuates over the years, our actions have undoubtedly contributed to recent changes in Earth’s climate.
What Are The Consequences?
We’re already seeing the impact of this warming, as the world struggles with extreme climate events like droughts, heatwaves, floods, and an influx of wildfires in places like Europe, the United States, and Australia.
These extreme weather patterns could become the new normal if left unchecked, which is why companies and policymakers around the world are embarking on different solutions—from targeting net zero goals to implementing technological innovations that could reduce emissions.
This article was published as a part of Visual Capitalist's Creator Program, which features data-driven visuals from some of our favorite Creators around the world.
Tracking Antarctica Sea Ice Loss in 2023
Antarctica’s ice extent has reached record lows. This visual details and maps Antarctica sea ice loss over the last two years.
Tracking Antarctica Sea Ice Loss in 2023
Scientists have been tracking the extent and concentrations of Antarctica’s sea ice for decades, and the last two years have raised global alarm bells.
As temperatures are breaking records around the world, the southernmost continent’s ice sheet is visibly smaller than it has been in decades past.
The above graphic uses tracking data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) to visualize sea ice extent in Antarctica as of August 2023
How Much Ice Has Antarctica Lost?
According to satellite data tracked by the NSIDC, sea ice extent in Antarctica has shrunk to record lows.
When compared to previously charted data dating back to 1979, daily record lows in sea ice extent have been recorded for every day in 2023 so far.
Here is how daily Antarctic sea ice extent in 2023 compares to 2022 (which had many of the previous record lows), and the median from 1981 to 2010.
|Date||2023 (km²)||2022 (km²)||Median (1981‒2010, km²)|
Antarctica’s sea ice extent on August 24, 2023 was 1.42 million square kilometers smaller than the year before. When compared to the median extent for that date from 1980 to 2010, it was 2.07 million square kilometers smaller.
Keep in mind that July and August are the coldest months in Antarctica. Its position on the South Pole gives it a very long winter ranging from the end of February to the end of September, with ice building up before melting temperatures arrive in October.
Antarctica Sea Ice and the Rest of the World
Even though the continent is thousands of kilometers from most of Earth’s land and populace, its ice has an important impact on the rest of the planet.
Antarctica’s large ice sheet is able to reflect a lot of sunlight in sunnier months, reducing the amount absorbed by the ocean. The wider its extent builds up over the winter, the more sunlight and heat it is able to reflect.
It’s also important to consider that this ice comes from a regular pattern of freezing and melting ocean water. The more ice is lost to the oceans compared to what accumulates in a given year, the higher sea levels rise around the world.
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