2021: record year in greenhouse gas concentrations, global sea levels, and ocean heat 

In a report released on Wednesday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that climate change continued to worsen in 2021, setting new records for greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere that helped push sea levels and ocean heat content to record highs.

NOAA’s peer-reviewed State of the Climate report was supported by research from more than 530 scientists from over 60 countries, and analyzed 2021 data to offer what it calls “the most comprehensive update on Earth’s climate indicators.”

“The data presented in this report are clear — we continue to see more compelling scientific evidence that climate change has global impacts and shows no sign of slowing,” NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad said in a statement that accompanied the report. “With many communities hit with 1,000-year floods, exceptional drought and historic heat this year, it shows that the climate crisis is not a future threat but something we must address today as we work to build a Climate-Ready Nation — and world — that is resilient to climate-driven extremes.”

Smoke rises from a chimney in Beijing
Smoke rises from a chimney in Beijing. (Guo Junfeng/Costfoto/Future Publishing via Getty Images)

Among the findings in the new report are that the burning of fossil fuels continues to worsen the so-called greenhouse effect.

“The major atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations — carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide — each rose once again to new record highs during 2021,” the report states.

While 2021 was not the warmest year on record, it ranked as the sixth hottest in recorded history, and the seven warmest have all occurred in the last seven years.

Ocean temperatures did set a new record in 2021, the report finds.

“The ocean sequesters the vast majority of the excess energy trapped in the Earth’s system by greenhouse gases and other factors; estimated at more than 90% over the past half-century. Global ocean heat content, measured from the ocean’s surface to a depth of more than 6,000 feet, continued to increase and reached new record highs in 2021,” the report states.

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