NASA: 2005 Will be Hottest Year on Record
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.
Scientists at NASA's Godard Institute for Space Studies have released new temperature data. They are now projecting that this will be the hottest year ever on record--ever that anyone's measured, anyway. NASA warns these changes are really small potatoes compared to what's going to come. The data comes after a spate of scientific news suggesting global warming has already had a measurable effect on the earth's climate. Joining us is Andrew Revkin, science writer for The New York Times.
Andrew, these are projections, so why is this newsworthy? I mean, 2005 isn't even over yet.
Mr. ANDREW REVKIN (Science Writer, The New York Times): Yeah, although there's been so much unusual warmth already through the first two-thirds of the year that they're pretty confident. It would take a really unusual cool event in the last couple of months to take it away from record territory.
CHADWICK: So what does it mean to have this record here? I mean, what was the previous hottest year on record?
Mr. REVKIN: Well, the thing that's notable about being this warm now is that back in '98, the year that set the earlier modern record, there was sort of a no-brainer reason for it to be so warm. The Pacific, which goes through these cycles of warming and cooling that we call El Nino, was at a peak of one of the warmest, biggest El Ninos ever. So that really spiked temperatures extraordinarily. When you look at the long-term trend you see a real--literally a spike in that year, and then it kind of descended down to near-record warmth. And now that background warming, which has been pretty steady since then, has surpassed what was this very easy-to-explain spike. And there's no easy explanation now because there is no El Nino warming in the Pacific, for example.
CHADWICK: There's no explanation except that, indeed, the Earth is getting warmer?
Mr. REVKIN: Right. The pattern is such that the scientists who've been tracking this for a long time, the folks at NASA, feel it's hard to explain it without pointing to the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
CHADWICK: There is the shrinking of the Arctic ice cap, which you wrote about in Monday's paper. There are also the surface water temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico. How hot was the Gulf of Mexico over the summer?
Mr. REVKIN: Well, it was hot. The hurricanes that got powered in the last season, Katrina and Rita, were--they got--probably their intensity wasn't so much from the surface temperature. It's these big, giant deep pools of hot water there that were the fuel for those hurricanes. So that's a little bit--the Gulf is not a good place to look for a sign of this larger global warming trend really. The other places, the Arctic and the general global average, are where you really do see things that become meaningful.
CHADWICK: When you say that scientists suspect greenhouse gases, a lot of global warming experts think the higher temperatures are caused by human activities--fossil fuels. There are skeptics who say it's a natural phenomenon. So when you look at these numbers, how do you know what to think?
Mr. REVKIN: One of the things that's valuable about the global average--which is a really hard number to get because there's something like 7,000 different sets of temperature records they monitor to come up with that figure, and you have to account for things like what they call the heat island effect. As cities have grown and suburbs have grown over the decades, you have more asphalt and less green grass and cool things, and that's changed things. But the scientists who do this work have largely accounted for those potential sources of error, and when you get rid of those potential sources of error, you still have the warming. There is a persistent minority of scientists out there, some of whom are very effective at getting attention who feel otherwise, but when you talk to the people who are actually doing the peer-reviewed work, very hard to find someone who doesn't find a significant, if not a dominant, human influence right now.
CHADWICK: New York Times science writer Andrew Revkin. Andrew, thank you for joining us on DAY TO DAY.
Mr. REVKIN: It's my pleasure. Thanks.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.