2015 likely to be the warmest on record

25 11 2015

This year’s global average surface temperature is likely to be the warmest on record according to data from the Met Office, and is expected to continue the trend showing 15 of the top 16 warmest years have happened since 2001.

These findings concur with the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) findings also announced today.

2015 a more ‘clear-cut’ record

Provisional figures up to the end of October show this year’s near-surface global temperature as estimated from the HadCRUT dataset has been around 0.71 ±0.1 °C above the 1961-1990 average of 14.0 °C.

This is in-line with the Met Office’s forecast, issued in December 2014, which predicted 2015 global temperatures would be between 0.52 °C and 0.76 °C* above the 1961-1990 average, with a central estimate of 0.64 °C.

In HadCRUT, this year is clearly warmer than 2014, the previous nominal warmest year in the record, which was 0.57 ±0.1 °C above the 1961-1990 average.

Global Temperature graph

Colin Morice, a climate monitoring scientist at the Met Office, said: “Last year was nominally the warmest year in our records but wasn’t much higher than the other top warmest years. This year the temperature is markedly warmer than anything we’ve previously seen in the 166-year record, meaning its position at the top of the rankings looks set to be much more clear cut.”


The HadCRUT dataset, jointly compiled by the Met Office and Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, uses data from more than 6, 000 observation sites around the world and observations from ships and buoys at sea. It is recognised as one of the world’s leading indices of global temperature.

Temperatures 1 °C above ‘pre-industrial’ for first time

2015 is set to mark the first time in the record that annual global temperatures reach 1 °C above ‘pre-industrial’ temperatures (taken here as an average of the 1850-1900 period*).

This is important because governments around the world have agreed the aim of trying to limit warming to 2 °C or less above pre-industrial to try to avoid the most dangerous impacts of climate change.

Leading independently-run datasets agree

Findings from HadCRUT are very similar to independently-run global temperature datasets compiled by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA Goddard Institute of Space Studies.

Information from all three datasets is included in an announcement from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) on global temperature, which also concludes this year is likely to be the warmest on record.

Where did 2015’s warmth come from?

This year has seen a strong El Niño develop, with unusually warm sea surface temperatures across the Tropical Pacific, releasing heat into the atmosphere and pushing up global temperatures.

Global Temperature chart

Global Temperature chart

While this has contributed to 2015’s warmth, this is likely to be comparatively small compared to the long-term influence of warming caused by human greenhouse gas emissions.

This is backed up by research from the Met Office last year which showed global temperatures seen in recent years would be highly unlikely in a world without human influence on the climate.

What’s in store for the year ahead?

Last year saw record or near record warmth globally, this year is warmer still and the current expectation is that next year will also be warm.

This is due to two factors: firstly, the ongoing warming due to human influence, and secondly although the current El Niño is expected to peak around the end of this year, its main warming influence is usually felt in the months afterwards. For example, a strong El Niño peaked at the end of 1997 – but it was 1998 which went on to become a record (at the time) by some margin.

There are other natural factors – such as changes in longer term ocean cycles or volcanic eruptions – which could act to reduce global temperatures next year, so there will always be some uncertainty.

The Met Office will give more detail in the expected global temperature for 2016 when it publishes its forecast in the latter part of December.


* While late 19th century temperatures are commonly taken to be indicative of pre-industrial, there is no fixed period that is used as standard and a variety of other periods have been used for observational and palaeo datasets. There are limitations in available data in the early instrumental record, making the average temperature in the reference period less certain. There is not a reliable indicator of global temperatures back to 1750, which is the era widely assumed to represent pre-industrial conditions. Therefore 1850-1900 is chosen here as the most reliable reference period, which also corresponds to the period chosen by IPCC to represent a suitable earlier reference period.

Met Office in the Media: 14 October 2012

14 10 2012

An article by David Rose appears today in the Mail on Sunday under the title: ‘Global warming stopped 16 years ago, reveals Met Office report quietly released… and here is the chart to prove it’

It is the second article Mr Rose has written which contains some misleading information, after he wrote an article earlier this year on the same theme – you see our response to that one here.

To address some of the points in the article published today:

Firstly, the Met Office has not issued a report on this issue. We can only assume the article is referring to the completion of work to update the HadCRUT4 global temperature dataset compiled by ourselves and the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit.

We announced that this work was going on in March and it was finished this week. You can see the HadCRUT4 website here.

Secondly, Mr Rose says the Met Office made no comment about its decadal climate predictions. This is because he did not ask us to make a comment about them.

You can see our full response to all of the questions Mr Rose did ask us below:

Hi David,

Here’s a response to your questions. I’ve kept them as concise as possible but the issues you raise require considerable explanation.

Q.1 “First, please confirm that they do indeed reveal no warming trend since 1997.”

The linear trend from August 1997 (in the middle of an exceptionally strong El Nino) to August 2012 (coming at the tail end of a double-dip La Nina) is about 0.03°C/decade, amounting to a temperature increase of 0.05°C over that period, but equally we could calculate the linear trend from 1999, during the subsequent La Nina, and show a more substantial warming.

As we’ve stressed before, choosing a starting or end point on short-term scales can be very misleading. Climate change can only be detected from multi-decadal timescales due to the inherent variability in the climate system. If you use a longer period from HadCRUT4 the trend looks very different. For example, 1979 to 2011 shows 0.16°C/decade (or 0.15°C/decade in the NCDC dataset, 0.16°C/decade in GISS). Looking at successive decades over this period, each decade was warmer than the previous – so the 1990s were warmer than the 1980s, and the 2000s were warmer than both. Eight of the top ten warmest years have occurred in the last decade.

Over the last 140 years global surface temperatures have risen by about 0.8ºC. However, within this record there have been several periods lasting a decade or more during which temperatures have risen very slowly or cooled. The current period of reduced warming is not unprecedented and 15 year long periods are not unusual.

Q.2 “Second, tell me what this says about the models used by the IPCC and others which have predicted a rise of 0.2 degrees celsius per decade for the 21st century. I accept that there will always be periods when a rising gradient may be interrupted. But this flat period has now gone on for about the same time as the 1980 – 1996 warming.”

The models exhibit large variations in the rate of warming from year to year and over a decade, owing to climate variations such as ENSO, the Atlantic Multi-Decadal Oscillation and Pacific Decadal Oscillation. So in that sense, such a period is not unexpected. It is not uncommon in the simulations for these periods to last up to 15 years, but longer periods are unlikely.

Q.3 “Finally, do these data suggest that factors other than CO2 – such as multi-decadal oceanic cycles – may exert a greater influence on climate than previously realised?”

We have limited observations on multi-decadal oceanic cycles but we have known for some time that they may act to slow down or accelerate the observed warming trend. In addition, we also know that changes in the surface temperature occur not just due to internal variability, but are also influenced by “external forcings”, such as changes in solar activity, volcanic eruptions or aerosol emissions. Combined, several of these factors could account for some or all of the reduced warming trend seen over the last decade – but this is an area of ongoing research.


The below graph which shows years ranked in order of global temperature was not included in the response to Mr Rose, but is useful in this context as it illustrates the point made above that eight of the warmest years on record have occurred in the past decade.

Graph showing years ranked in order of global temperature.


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