CLIMATE scientists have warned that 2010 could turn out to be the warmest year in recorded history.
They have collated global surface temperature measurements showing that the world has experienced near-record highs between January and April.
Researchers working independently at the Met Office and Nasa are soon to publish data that reveal the trend is likely to continue for the rest of the year.
James Hansen, director of Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (Giss), a world centre for climate monitoring, said: “Global temperatures, averaged over the past 12 months, were the warmest for 130 years.
“December to February was also the second-warmest of any such period.”
Vicky Pope, head of climate change advice at the Met Office, said: “It was a cold winter in Europe but, globally, January to March was one of the seven warmest starts to the year on record.
“This year has more than a 50% chance of being the warmest on record.”
The average global surface temperature is based on measurements taken from thousands of monitoring stations and satellites. These measurements are collated and independently analysed by the Met Office, Giss and at the National Climatic Data Center in North Carolina.
The Giss record shows that from January to April this year the global temperature was elevated by an average of 0.75C, compared with benchmark temperatures.
Climate change was not the only suspected cause.
Research suggests that the warming is also strongly linked to a temporary shift in Pacific currents, known as El Niño, which has caused the ocean to release large amounts of heat into the atmosphere.
Kevin Trenberth, head of climate analysis at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado, said: “We have seen rapid warming recently, but it is an example of natural variation that is associated with changes in the Pacific rather than climate change.
“However, this warming is in addition to the 0.7C long-term rise in global temperature caused by climate change. The record temperatures are due to the two factors adding together.”
John Christy, professor of atmospheric science at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, was cautious about predicting record temperatures for 2010, pointing out that the global datasets for temperature had flaws that could lead to rises being overstated. He said: “Be wary of climate forecasts — Mother Nature always seems to have a trick up her sleeve.”