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Temperature Record 101: How We Know What We Know about Climate Change

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2021 was tied for the sixth warmest year on NASA’s record, stretching more than a century.

But, what is a temperature record?

GISTEMP, NASA’s global temperature analysis, takes in millions of observations from instruments on weather stations, ships and ocean buoys, and Antarctic research stations, to determine how much warmer or cooler Earth is on average from year to year. Stretching back to 1880, NASA’s record shows a clear warming trend.

However, individual weather events and La Niña — a pattern of cooler waters in the Pacific that was responsible for slightly cooling 2021’s average temperature — can affect individual years. Because the record is global, not every place on Earth experienced the sixth warmest year on record. Some places had record-high temperatures, and we saw record droughts, floods and fires around the globe.

Universal Production Music: Knock and Wait (Instrumental) by Brice Davoli [SACEM], Well That’s Difference (Instrumental) by Jeff Cardoni [ASCAP], Wanna Be Hipster (Instrumental) by Jeff Cardoni [ASCAP], Curiosity Killed Kitty (Instrumental) by Robert Leslie Bennett [ASCAP], Eco Issues (Instrumental) by Max van Thun [GEMA]

Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Scientific Visualization Studio
Kathryn Mersmann (KBRwyle): Lead Producer
Katie Jepson (KBRwyle): Lead Producer
Kathleen Gaeta (AIMM): Lead Producer
Roberto Molar-Candanosa (KBR): Lead Writer
Sofie Bates (KBR): Lead Writer
Peter H. Jacobs (NASA/GSFC): Lead Public Affairs Officer
Lori Perkins (NASA/GSFC): Lead Visualizer
Mark SubbaRao (NASA/GSFC): Visualizer
Helen-Nicole Kostis (USRA): Visualizer
Alexander Bodnar (AIMM): Animator
Gavin A. Schmidt (NASA/GSFC GISS): Lead Scientist
Karen St. Germain (NASA): Scientist
Dalia B Kirschbaum (NASA/GSFC): Scientist
Elizabeth Hoy (GST): Scientist
Lesley Ott (NASA/GSFC): Scientist
Rachel Tilling (University of Maryland): Scientist
Bridget N. Seegers (University of Maryland, Baltimore County): Research Scientist
Christopher S.R. Neigh (NASA): Research Scientist

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Climate Change, GISS, Global Temperatures
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