Not the hottest, but 2008 still makes the top 10

Posted by Laura Grant on December 17, 2008
Posted in Green News


The year 2008 is likely to rank as the 10th warmest year since climate records began in 1850, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the United Nations’ authoritative voice on weather, climate and water.

But don’t let the climate change denialists say ‘I told you so’, because all the years that have been warmer than 2008 have been during the last 12 years, the WMO director-general Michel Jarraud told a press briefing. And the reason this year’s temperature has been slightly lower that the rest of the 21st century so far is because of a moderate to strong La Niña that developed in the latter half of 2007. La Niña and El Nino are part of a naturally occurring climate cycle influenced by ocean surface temperature in the tropical eastern Pacific Ocean.

Interestingly, a recently published survey of mortality from natural threats in the United States – which has been not-so-euphemistically dubbed the “death map” – found that heatwaves claimed more lives than  more headline-grabbing natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes. (The survey period was 1970 – 2004, so it did not include Hurricane Katrina, which killed more 1,500 people in 2005 when it hit New Orleans).

The survey, published in the International Survey of Health Geographics, noted: “Over time, highly destructive, highly publicised, often catastrophic singular events such as hurricanes and earthquakes are responsible for relatively few deaths when compare to the more frequent, less catastrophic events.”

Other climate-change related info from the WMO report was that the extent of the Arctic Sea ice dropped to its second-lowest level since satellite measurements began in 1979 during the melt season this year – which peaks in mid-September.

“A remarkable occurrence in 2008 was the dramatic disappearance of nearly one-quarter of the massive ancient ice shelves on Ellesmere Island. Ice 70 metres thick, which a century ago covered 9 000 km2, has been chiselled down to just 1 000 km2 today, underscoring the rapidity of changes taking place in the Arctic,” the WMO said in a press release.

The ozone hole over Antarctica was smaller than last year, its area reached a maximum of 27 million km2 on 12 September. This is less than in the record year 2006 (more than 29 million km2) but larger than in 2007 (25 million km2). The variation in the size of the ozone hole from one year to another can be, to a large extent, explained by the meteorological conditions in the stratosphere, says the WMO.

Climate extremes, including devastating floods, severe and persistent droughts, snow storms, heatwaves and cold waves, were recorded in many parts of the world, notably Cyclone Nargis which caused devastation in Burma earlier this year.


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