Will 2020 be the Warmest Year On Record? A Conversation with Berkeley Earth Climate Scientists

As 2020 comes to a close, Berkeley Earth climate scientists Dr. Robert Rohde and Dr. Zeke Hausfather reflect on the dramatic trends that have shaped the climate change narrative throughout the year in our latest Q&A conversation.

Despite the catastrophic West Coast wildfires, relentless hurricanes along the Gulf Coast, and record-setting high temperatures in California, Rohde and Hausfather cited the climate story coming out of the Arctic region as one of the most significant of this eventful year.

Unseasonably high temperatures across Siberia and Northern Asia in the early spring created an unusually early melting of sea ice in the region, a phenomenon which then snowballed in the summer due to what’s known as the Albedo effect; with less sea ice coverage, the darker sea water is able to absorb a higher level of radiation, causing water temperatures to rise, thereby creating greater warming of air temperatures as well.

The net effect: a record-setting 110 days of open waters in the Arctic Sea, the second-lowest sea ice extent on record, and temperatures averaging 4°C above historical averages.

“It’s such a rapid change”, said Rohde, citing the acceleration of the warming in the Arctic relative to both historical and global trends.

On the whole, global temperatures have been nearly tied with 2016 for overall record warmth thus far; the presence of a La Nina pattern in the South Pacific created a slight cooling effect in October relative to earlier months, but the final two months of the year could push 2020 into the lead for overall warmest year on record. Hausfather says it’s currently a toss-up whether 2020 will take the record, but it will likely be in one of the top positions nonetheless.

Berkeley Earth expects final analysis and reporting of 2020’s overall results by mid-late January.

The full in-depth conversation, including discussion of how temperature averages are calculated, why differences exist between different surface temperature research groups, and a preview of exciting new research on climate change mitigation efforts is available in the full video below.

For more detailed information about month-by-month temperature trends, visit our Berkeley Earth Temperature Updates.

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