* 17:00 14 December 2006
* NewScientist.com news service
* Catherine Brahic
2006 was the Earth's sixth warmest year on record, averaging 0.4°C above the
1961 to 1990 average, according to the World Meteorological Organization.
The records extend back to 1861. And the UK charted its warmest year ever
its records go back to 1659.
Advance figures for the Status of the Global Climate in 2006, released on
Thursday, reveal that global temperatures have risen by 0.7°C since 1900.
Most of this is due to a sharp rise (0.18°C per decade) since 1976. Final
figures will be released in March 2007.
The report also finds that virtually no corner of the planet was spared from
extreme weather events in 2006, many of which were record-breaking.
The US experienced its warmest January to September on record, and July in
Europe was also the warmest on record, nearly 3°C above the norm. In the
southern hemisphere, Brazil and Australia also experienced heat waves
between January and March. The town of Bom Jesus in Brazil recorded 44.6°C
on 31 January one of the highest temperatures ever in the country.
Nor was Africa spared. Having suffered its worst drought in a decade this
summer, Somalia is now undergoing its worst flooding in recent history. The
extreme rainfall is affecting the entire Great Horn of Africa, where some
regions have received more than six times their average monthly rainfall and
hundreds of thousands of people have been affected.
Even the Sahara desert got rare heavy rainfall in February, which damaged
70% of food production and displaced 600,000 people.
Back in Europe, the River Danube rose to its highest level in more than a
century because of heavy rainfall and snow melt. And in the US, New England
and the north-east suffered exceptional rainfall which forced some 200,000
people to evacuate. Vancouver, in Canada, received nearly twice its monthly
average rainfall in November.
$10 billion losses
In China, millions of hectares of crops were damaged by drought in Sichuan
province during the summer and in eastern China during the autumn. China
also suffered its worst tropical cyclone season in a decade: more than 1000
people died and the storms cost China $10 billion in economic losses.
In the Philippines, typhoon Durian affected some 1.5 million people in
November and December, claiming more than 500 lives with hundreds still
As for Arctic ice, researchers have noted that it is continuing to melt
faster than ever (seeArctic ice: Going, goingŠ). The WMO estimates that sea
ice is now declining by 8.6% every decade, equivalent to 60,421 square
kilometres a year.
Most climate researchers agree that rising greenhouse gas emissions from
human activities will lead to global warming of between 1.4°C and 5.8°C, the
range of predictions made by in the last IPCC report.
Climate Change - Learn more in our continually updated special report.
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