Fever chart: Earth had its hottest decade on record in 2010s

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Noah Berger

FILE - In this Nov. 1, 2019, file photo, flames from a backfire consume a hillside as firefighters battle the Maria Fire in Santa Paula, Calif. The decade that just ended was by far the hottest ever measured on Earth, capped off by the second-warmest year on record, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Noah Berger, File)

WASHINGTON, DC – The decade that just ended was by far the hottest ever measured on Earth, capped off by the second-warmest year on record, two U.S. agencies reported Wednesday. And scientists said they see no end to the way man-made climate change keeps shattering records.

“If you think you've heard this story before, you haven't seen anything yet,” Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said at the close of a decade plagued by raging wildfires, melting ice and extreme weather that researchers have repeatedly tied to human activity.

Schmidt said Earth as a whole is probably the hottest it has been during the Holocene — the past 11,500 years or so — meaning this could be the warmest period since the dawn of civilization. But scientists' estimates of ancient global temperatures, based on tree rings, ice cores and other telltale signs, are not precise enough to say that with certainty.

The 2010s averaged 58.4 degrees Fahrenheit (14.7 degrees Celsius) worldwide, or 1.4 degrees (0.8 C) higher than the 20th century average and more than one-third of a degree (one-fifth of a degree C) warmer than the previous decade, which had been the hottest on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The decade had eight of the 10 hottest years on record. The only other years in the top 10 were 2005 and 1998.

NASA and NOAA also calculated that 2019 was the second-hottest year in the 140 years of record-keeping. Five other global teams of monitoring scientists agreed, based on temperature readings taken on Earth's surface, while various satellite-based measurements said it was anywhere from the hottest year on record to the third-hottest.

Several scientists said the coming years will be even hotter, knocking these years out of the record books.

“This is going to be part of what we see every year until we stabilize greenhouse gases” from the burning of coal, oil and gas, Schmidt said.