Research News

2006 Was Earth's Fifth Warmest Year

Graphic listing the top five warmest years recorded

Climatologists at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York City have found that 2006 was the fifth warmest year in the past century.

Image right: The five warmest years since the late 1880s, according to NASA scientists, are in descending order 2005, 1998, 2002, 2003 and 2006. Credit: NASA

Other groups that study climate change also rank these years as among the warmest, though the exact rankings vary depending upon details of the analyses. Results differ especially in regions of sparse measurements, where scientists use alternative methods of estimating temperature change.

Goddard Institute researchers used temperature data from weather stations on land, satellite measurements of sea surface temperature since 1982 and data from ships for earlier years.

Figures at right: The upper graph shows global annual surface temperatures relative to 1951 to 1980 mean, based on surface air measurements at meteorological stations and ship and satellite measurements for sea surface temperature. Over the past 30 years the Earth has warmed by about 0.6°C or 1.08°F. The lower image is a color map of temperature anomalies in 2006 relative to the 1951 to 1980 mean. Areas that were warmest in 2006 are in red, and areas that have cooled are in blue. Note that the Arctic has warmed significantly. These temperatures are for the calendar year 2006.
Figures available as large GIF or PDF.

"2007 is likely to be warmer than 2006," said James Hansen, director of NASA GISS, "and it may turn out to be the warmest year in the period of instrumental measurements. Increased warmth is likely this year because an El Niño is underway in the tropical Pacific Ocean and because of continuing increases in human-made greenhouse gases.

Image at left: The animation to the right shows a basic demonstration of the increase in annual mean temperature in ten year increments from 1891 through 2006. Warmest temperatures are shown in red. Animation available in MPEG-1 or H.264 QuickTime. Credit: NASA/GISS and NASA/GSFC/SVS.

Most places on the globe have warmed in recent decades, with the greatest warming at high latitudes in the Arctic Ocean, Alaska, Siberia and the Antarctic Peninsula. Most ocean areas have warmed. Climatologists say that warming is not due to local effects of heat pollution in urban areas, a point demonstrated by warming in remote areas far from major cities.

Image above: This graph shows temperature changes since 1950 for both the entire world and just for the low latitudes (23.6° North to South). Since 1950, world temperatures rose by 0.6°C (1.08° F) while the low latitude temperatures rose by 0.4°C (0.72°F). Blue semi-circles mark La Niñas, red rectangles mark El Niños, and green triangles mark large volcanoes. Figure available as large GIF or PDF. Credit: NASA.

In their analysis for the 2005 calendar year, GISS climatologists noted the highest global annual average surface temperature in more than a century.

See Also

News Release: 2005 Was Warmest Year in Over a Century

GISS Datasets: Surface Temperature Analysis

Media Contact

Leslie McCarthy, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, New York, N.Y., 212-678-5507,

This page originated as a NASA Portal GSFC Top Story.