Earth  ID: 3817

Five-Year Average Global Temperature Anomalies from 1880 to 2010

Groups of scientists from several major institutions - NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), NOAA's National Climatic Data Center (NCDC), the Japanese Meteorological Agency and the Met Office Hadley Centre in the United Kingdom - tally data collected by temperature monitoring stations spread around the world and make an announcement about whether the previous year was a comparatively warm or cool year. This analysis concerns only temperature anomalies, not absolute temperature. Temperature anomalies are computed relative to the base period 1951-1980. The reason to work with anomalies, rather than absolute temperature is that absolute temperature varies markedly in short distances, while monthly or annual temperature anomalies are representative of a much larger region. Indeed, we have shown (Hansen and Lebedeff, 1987) that temperature anomalies are strongly correlated out to distances of the order of 1000 km. For more information about this dataset, see

NASA's announcement this year - that 2010 ties 2005 as the warmest year in the 131-year instrumental record - made headlines. But, how much does the ranking of a single year matter?

Not all that much, emphasizes James Hansen, the director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York City. In the GISS analysis, for example, 2010 differed from 2005 by less than 0.01°C (0.018°F), a difference so small that the temperatures of these two years are indistinguishable, given the uncertainty of the calculation.

Meanwhile, the third warmest year - 2009 - is so close to 1998, 2002, 2003, 2006, and 2007, with the maximum difference between the years being a mere 0.03°C, that all six years are virtually tied.

Even for a near record-breaking year like 2010 the broader context is more important than a single year. "Certainly, it is interesting that 2010 was so warm despite the presence of a La Niña and a remarkably inactive sun, two factors that have a cooling influence on the planet, but far more important than any particular year's ranking are the decadal trends," Hansen said.

Visualization Credits

Lori Perkins (NASA/GSFC): Lead Animator
Brooke Harris (UMBC): Producer
James Hansen Ph.D. (NASA/GSFC GISS): Scientist
Reto A. Ruedy Ph.D. (SIGMA Space Partners, LLC.): Scientist
Kwok-Wai Ken Lo Ph.D. (SIGMA Space Partners, LLC.): Scientist
Makiko Sato Ph.D. (Columbia University, Center for Climate Systems Research): Scientist
Robert B Schmunk Ph.D. (SIGMA Space Partners, LLC.): Scientist
Robert B Schmunk Ph.D. (SIGMA Space Partners, LLC.): Project Support
Adam P Voiland (Wyle Information Systems): Writer
Please give credit for this item to:
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio
Data provided by Robert B. Schmunk (NASA/GSFC GISS)

Science Paper:

*Hansen, J., R. Ruedy, Mki. Sato, and K. Lo, 2010: Global surface temperature change. Rev. Geophys., 48, RG4004, doi:10.1029/2010RG000345.

Model documentation, including the ModelE specification and results from three standard configurations, is given in the following journal article:

* Schmidt, G.A., R. Ruedy, J.E. Hansen, I. Aleinov, N. Bell, M. Bauer, S. Bauer, B. Cairns, V. Canuto, Y. Cheng, A. Del Genio, G. Faluvegi, A.D. Friend, T.M. Hall, Y. Hu, M. Kelley, N.Y. Kiang, D. Koch, A.A. Lacis, J. Lerner, K.K. Lo, R.L. Miller, L. Nazarenko, V. Oinas, Ja. Perlwitz, Ju. Perlwitz, D. Rind, A. Romanou, G.L. Russell, Mki. Sato, D.T. Shindell, P.H. Stone, S. Sun, N. Tausnev, D. Thresher, and M.-S. Yao 2006. Present day atmospheric simulations using GISS ModelE: Comparison to in-situ, satellite and reanalysis data. J. Climate 19, 153-192.

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Data Used:
GISS Surface Temperature Analysis (GISTEMP)/GISTEMP
Note: While we identify the data sets used in these visualizations, we do not store any further details nor the data sets themselves on our site.

This item is part of this series:
Global Temperature Anomalies

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GCMD keywords can be found on the Internet with the following citation: Olsen, L.M., G. Major, K. Shein, J. Scialdone, S. Ritz, T. Stevens, M. Morahan, A. Aleman, R. Vogel, S. Leicester, H. Weir, M. Meaux, S. Grebas, C.Solomon, M. Holland, T. Northcutt, R. A. Restrepo, R. Bilodeau, 2013. NASA/Global Change Master Directory (GCMD) Earth Science Keywords. Version