2015 State of the Climate: Highlights

  • Sea level

    Sea level hit a new record high in 2015 thanks to long-term ocean warming and thermal expansion, melting glaciers and ice sheets, and a boost from one of the strongest El Niños on record.

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  • Sea level rise

    The global mean sea level in 2015 was approximately 7 centimeters (2.7 inches) above the 1993 average, making it the highest observed since the satellite altimeter record began in 1993.

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  • Surface temperature

    Global surface temperature in 2015 easily beat the previous record holder, 2014, for the title of warmest year in the modern instrument record. The long-term warming trend of the surface and lower atmosphere continued.

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  • Surface temperature over time

    The 2015 global surface temperature was 0.426°–0.466°C (0.76°–0.83°F) above the 1980-2010 average, depending on the data set. For the troposphere, 2015 ranked between first and fourth warmest of the past 58 years, depending on the data set.

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  • Carbon dioxide

    Global carbon dioxide levels hit a new high in 2015, and the observatory at Mauna Loa recorded the largest one-year jump in annual average concentrations.

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  • Mountain glaciers

    In 2015, glaciers across the globe, on average, continued to shrink for the 36th consecutive year. Cumulative mass loss since 1980 is 18.8 meters, the equivalent of cutting a 20.5 meter (67-foot) thick slice of the top of the average glacier.

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  • Extremely warm days

    In 2015, the frequencies of extremely warm days and nights were the highest ever recorded in western North America, parts of central Europe, and central Asia.

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  • Extremely warm days over time

    Although the percent of hot days rises and falls from year to year due to natural variability, the overall global trend is clear: the number of hot days has increased. The year 2015 broke the record for the highest number of extremely warm days in the 66-year record. 

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  • Ocean heat storage

    Ocean heat storage has increased substantially since 1993, hitting a record high in 2015. Ocean warming accounts for over 90% of the warming in Earth’s climate system.

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  • Ocean heat storage over time

    The amount of heat energy in the upper 2,300 feet (700 meters) of the ocean (orange) and the deeper ocean (2,300–6,500 feet, gray) relative to a 1993 baseline. The orange line is steeper than the gray line, which means heat energy is building up faster in the upper ocean than in the deeper ocean.

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  • Drought

    2015 was a tough year for vegetation, both natural and agricultural, with a near-record area of global land surfaces in some state of drought. The area in severe drought increased from 8% at the end of 2014 to 14% by the end of 2015.

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  • Drought over time

    This graph shows the percentage of global land area (excluding ice sheets and deserts) in a moderate, severe, or extreme drought. By the end of 2015, 30% of the global land was in drought, with 14% in a severe or extreme drought, the two most dire categories. This is among the largest drought extent since modern record keeping began in the 1950s.

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front and back cover of the BAMS 2015 State of the Climate report

About the report

The State of the Climate report series is the authoritative annual summary of the global climate. Published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, the report is edited by scientists at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. The 2015 report is based on contributions from more than 450 scientists from 62 countries, drawing on tens of thousands of measurements of Earth's climate.

The report confirmed that 2015 surpassed 2014 as the warmest year since at least the mid-to-late nineteenth century. The record heat resulted from the combined influence of long-term global warming and one of the strongest El Niño events the globe has experienced since at least 1950. Most indicators of climate change continued to reflect trends consistent with a warming planet. Several markers, such as land and ocean temperatures, sea levels, and greenhouse gases, broke records set just one year prior.

Press Release Full Report

Interactive map of extreme events & anomalies

Climate scientists keep careful records of extreme events around the world to understand the type of climate hazards that different parts of the world are vulnerable to and whether those events are becoming more frequent or intense over time.

From devastating cyclones to crippling drought, this map highlights the events that scientists from around the world decided should go down in the 2015 record books as the year's most significant.

More features

The author of the glacier chapter of the 2015 State of the Climate report and his daughter talk about how family connections brought them together scientifically, and how science keeps bringing their family together.

A record-smashing hurricane season in the central North Pacific. Water rationing in Puerto Rico. The biggest one-year jump in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations. These and more of 2015's extreme events had one thing in common: El Niño.

In the 2015 edition of the State of the Climate report, climate and biology experts wrote about some dramatic impacts of warming on life in the ocean.