Climate Change

2021 sixth warmest year since 1880

The January-December 2021 average global surface temperature was the sixth highest since global records began in 1880

By Susan Chacko
Published: Monday 17 January 2022
Photo: istock
Photo: istock Photo: istock

The global surface temperature for 2021 was the sixth-highest since record keeping began in 1880, according to scientists from the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, in a separate analysis of global temperature data, released on the same day (January 13, 2022) said 2021 is at par with 2018 as the sixth warmest year on record. December 2021 global surface temperature tied with 2016 as the fifth-highest in the 142-year record.

The average temperature across global surfaces was 0.84 degrees Celsius (°C) above the 20th century average. This was the sixth highest among all years in the 1880-2021 record.


The year 2021 was the 45th consecutive year (since 1977) with global temperatures, at least nominally, above the 20th century average. The nine years spanning 2013 through 2021 rank among the 10 warmest years on record.

The 2021 global land and ocean temperature was 1.04°C above the average for the 21-year span (1880–1900 that is considered a reasonable surrogate for pre-industrial conditions.

The annual global surface temperature has increased at an average rate of 0.08°C per decade since 1880. Since 1981, the average rate of increase is more than twice that rate (0.18°C).

The year 2021 began in the midst of a cold phase El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) episode across the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, which developed in August 2020.

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The 2021 Northern Hemisphere surface temperature was the sixth highest in the 142-year record at 1.09°C above the 20th century average.

The Northern Hemisphere land surface temperature was the third highest on record — 2016 (second) and 2020 (first) were warmer. The 2021 Southern Hemisphere surface temperature was the ninth highest on record.

Record-high temperatures over land surfaces were measured across parts of northern Africa, southern Asia and southern South America in 2021. Record-high sea surface temperatures were observed across parts of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

The upper ocean heat content (the amount of heat stored in the 0-2,000 metres depth of the ocean) was record high in 2021, surpassing the previous record set in 2020. The seven highest ocean heat content have all occurred in the last seven years (2015-2021).

Antarctic sea ice extent during December 2021 was 3.55 million square miles, according to an analysis by the National Snow and Ice Data Center. This value is 11.6 per cent below average and was the third-smallest December extent on record. Only the Decembers of 2016 and 2018 had a smaller extent.

Berkeley Earth, a California-based non-profit research organisation (preparing independent analyses of global mean temperature changes since 2013) also ranked 2021 the sixth-hottest.

Bill Nelson, NASA Administrator said: “Eight of the top 10 warmest years on our planet occurred in the last decade, an indisputable fact that underscores the need for bold action to safeguard the future of our country — and all of humanity.”

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