2017 was the second warmest year ever recorded -- behind only 2016

  • 2017 was the second warmest year on record, just ahead of 2015 and behind 2016, according to NASA.
  • The five hottest years on record have all occurred since 2010.
  • The warming is directly attributable to human-caused greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide. 

Last year was the second warmest year on record since 1880, second only to 2016, NASA scientists said on Thursday.

The global average temperature for 2017 was 1.62 degrees Fahrenheit higher than the average temperature from 1951 through 1980, according to the group of scientists led by Gavin Schmidt at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies. 

2017 was also the third year in a row in which global temperatures were at least 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit above late nineteenth-century levels. Last year's average temperature was slightly higher than that in 2015, Schmidt said on a call with reporters. 

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2017 was the second warmest year on record since 1880
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2017 was the second warmest year on record since 1880
A boy jumps into the Cijevna river to cool off near Tuzi as a heatwave hits Montenegro, August 4, 2017. REUTERS/Stevo Vasiljevic
People cool off in the water during a heatwave at Santa Fe Dam Recreation Area in Irwindale, California, U.S., August 31, 2017. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
Geese walk on sand during a heatwave at Santa Fe Dam Recreation Area in Irwindale, California, U.S., August 31, 2017. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
A woman cools off at a fountain in downtown Rome as a heatwave hits Italy, August 3, 2017. REUTERS/Max Rossi
Children play in mist at a water fountain as a heatwave hits south of France in Nice, France August 2, 2017. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard
A construction worker drinks water to cool off during a heatwave in downtown Ronda, Spain July 13, 2017. REUTERS/Jon Nazca
Meerkats eat a frozen watermelon on a hot summer day at the Bioparco zoo in Rome, Italy June 27, 2017. REUTERS/Tony Gentile
A firefighter drinks water after extinguishing a forest fire during a heatwave in Benaojan, Spain, July 12, 2017. REUTERS/Jon Nazca
Women dive in the canal at the La Villette park as hot summer temperatures hit Paris, France June 22, 2017. REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier
A man jumps from a bridge into the Limmat river during hot temperatures in Zurich, Switzerland June 21, 2017. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
People cool off in Trocadero fountains, near the Eiffel tower in Paris, as unusually high temperatures hit France, June 21, 2017. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes
A woman sunbathes on the San Lorenzo beach during a heatwave in Gijon, Spain, June 21, 2017. REUTERS/Eloy Alonso TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
People enjoy a sunny afternoon at Lake Leman during a heat wave in Lausanne, Switzerland June 21, 2017. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
Children play at a water fountain on a hot day in Singapore June 21, 2017. REUTERS/Edgar Su
Sydneysiders take refuge from sweltering conditions alongside apartments at Sydney's North Cronulla Beach during a heatwave along Australia's east coast, February 11, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Reed
Boys swim in a stream during a heatwave in Islamabad, Pakistan June 5, 2017. REUTERS/Caren Firouz TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A man pours on himself water leaking from a broken pipe to cool off during a heatwave in Islamabad, Pakistan June 5, 2017. REUTERS/Caren Firouz
Dried-up rivers and creeks can be seen in outback Queensland near the town of Mount Isa, Australia, February 12, 2017. Picture taken February 12, 2017. REUTERS/David Gray
People enjoy Venice Beach in Los Angeles, California on October 22, 2017. The National Weather Service issued an excessive heat warning with temperatures exceeding 100 degrees in parts of Los Angeles. (Photo by Ronen Tivony/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
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Despite the US' recent bout of frigid weather and snowstorms, the planet's overall temperature has risen about 2 degrees Fahrenheit during the last century, and that warming is directly attributable to the greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide that humans have pumped into the atmosphere. 

"Despite colder than average temperatures in any one part of the world, temperatures over the planet as a whole continue the rapid warming trend we’ve seen over the last 40 years," Schmidt said, adding, "Basically all the warming in the last 60 years is attributable to human activity. Carbon dioxide emissions are one component of that."

nasa 2017 global warming(Credits: NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio)

Temperatures in 2015 and 2016 were affected by an El Nino event, in which warmer Pacific Ocean currents cause warming across the globe, NASA said. If El Nino's effect were statistically removed from the record, 2017 would actually have been the warmest year. 

A separate, independent analysis from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration determined that 2017 was the third-warmest year in their record. The quibble is because NOAA uses a different method to measure temperatures in the planet's polar regions — which are warming faster than anywhere else — Deke Arndt, a climate scientist at NOAA, said on the call with reporters.

Both analyses note the same long-term warming trend, however: The five warmest years on record have all taken place since 2010. 

Last year, scientists also observed massive declines in sea ice in the Arctic and Antarctic. When sea ice levels decline, that can create a vicious cycle that increases the rate at which more ice melts.

"The absence of sea ice means less sunlight is reflected back to the surface, and that tends to add to the heating already underway," Arndt said.

The warming planet is already causing wide-ranging problems for endangered species, like green sea turtles, as well as residents of coastal cities.

The US spent more money on weather-related disasters like wildfires and hurricanes in 2017 than any other year, according to a recent analysis from NOAA. Such extreme events are only expected to get more frequent and severe as the Earth's average temperature continues to rise. 

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