1988 Was Hottest Year on Record as Global Warming Trend Continues
The world was warmer last year than in any other of the 130 years global temperature records have been kept, continuing the hot streak of the 1980s, British meteorologists reported Friday.
With five earlier years during this decade having been the five warmest on record, the 1988 results were interpreted by some U.S. scientists as compelling evidence that a long-term global warming is under way. Some attribute it to the “greenhouse effect,” in which gases released by factories and cars blanket the Earth and trap solar heat.
But other scientists said regional variations in temperatures as well as changing methods in collecting weather data over the years make such conclusions premature.
“This tells us we need to be alert for further changes in case this is the beginning of world warming due to the greenhouse effect,” David Parker, a senior research scientist at the British Meteorological Office, said of the 1988 data. “It’s suggestive of the greenhouse effect, but it’s not conclusive evidence.”
Scientists said the study does not contradict an earlier report showing that within the “Lower 48” part of the United States, there has been no evidence of a warming trend over the last century. That study showed that the average temperature in the lower United States has fluctuated around a fairly stable century-long average of 52.5 degrees. Climatologists say the area, occupying 1.5% of the Earth’s surface, is too small to be representative of world trends.
The British office and the University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit, the world’s oldest, most comprehensive center for global climate analysis, collected data from more than 1,000 weather stations on land and sea around the world and found that the average year-round air temperature of the Earth in 1988 was 0.61 degrees higher than the average of 57 degrees for the period 1950-79.
Parker said the 1988 average temperature just exceeded 1987’s level of 57.59 degrees and 1983’s level of 57.56 degrees--the two previous highest years on record.
High Average Temperatures
According to James E. Hansen, a National Aeronautics and Space Administration climatologist, the average temperatures for 1987 and 1988 are nearly three times higher than would be expected from the normal fluctuations of weather recorded during the last 30 years.
The 1988 records “strengthen the conclusion that there’s an underlying, long-term global warming,” said Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.
Hansen, who declared during last summer’s heat wave that the greenhouse effect “is here,” is a leading advocate of the theory that the 25% increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels since the Industrial Revolution is responsible for a 1-degree rise in world temperature over the last 100 years.