It has become an annual tradition among climatologists in this age of climate change. Every January, they announce where the just-ended year fits in among the warmest years on record. For example, 2006 -- with worldwide temperatures 0.42 degrees Celsius (0.75 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than normal -- was the sixth warmest on record.
But according to a new study released by Britain's Meteorological Office on Thursday, 2007 is set to be warmer still, and may become the warmest year ever recorded. Ongoing global warming combined with unusually warm waters in the Pacific Ocean off South America -- a phenomenon known as El Nino -- look to boost the average temperature fully 0.54 degrees Celsius above the long-term average of 14 degrees Celsius (57 degrees Fahrenheit).
The news won't come as a surprise to a Europe still waiting for winter to start. Ski resorts in the Alps only got their first heavy snowfall of the winter this week and much of northern Europe remains mild and rainy rather than cold and icy. Indeed, the Dutch weather bureau announced just last week that abnormally warm temperatures in Europe this autumn meant that in 2006 Holland was at its warmest since the country started keeping records 300 years ago. Across Europe, the autumn was warmer on average by more than 3 degrees Celsius.
In its annual climate report, Britain's Met Office said 2006 was also the warmest year on record for the UK, but added that 2007 was set to break the record for global average temperature. The Thursday press release said there was a 60 percent probability that 2007 would be the warmest on record. Over the past seven years, the annual report has proven remarkably accurate with a margin of error of just 0.06 degrees.
While global warming caused by human activity is a major factor in the warm year to come, a mild El Nino will also play a large role. Because the effects of El Nino are often felt for months afterwards, the phenomenon will likely raise global temperatures throughout the spring.
The warm temperatures may put even more pressure on the G8 summit to be held in Germany in early June. Great Britain has been trying to push the body to come up with a climate plan to replace the Kyoto Protocol after it expires, in 2013.
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