The global average temperature in 2011 was 14.52 degrees Celsius (58.14 degrees Fahrenheit). According to NASA scientists, this was the ninth warmest year in 132 years of recordkeeping, despite the cooling influence of the La Niña atmospheric and oceanic circulation pattern and relatively low solar irradiance.
Since the 1970s, each subsequent decade has gotten hotter - and nine of the 10 hottest years on record have occurred in the 21st century.
Each year's average temperature is determined by a number of factors, including solar activity and the status of the El Niño/La Niña phenomenon. But heat-trapping gases that have accumulated in the atmosphere, largely from the burning of fossil fuels, have become a dominant force, pushing the Earth's climate out of its normal range.
The planet is now close to 0.8 degrees Celsius warmer than it was a century ago. Hidden within annual averages and expected variability are startling instances of new temperature and rainfall records in many parts of the world - weather extremes that would once be considered anomalies but that now risk becoming the new norm as the Earth heats up.
Worldwide, 2011 was the second wettest year on record over land. (The record was set in 2010, which also tied 2005 as the warmest overall.) Heavier deluges are expected on a warmer planet; each temperature rise of one degree Celsius increases the amount of moisture the atmosphere can hold by about seven percent. Higher temperatures also can fuel stronger storms.
Brazil started the year with the deadliest natural disaster in its history: in January, a month's worth of rain fell in a single day in Rio de Janeiro state, leading to floods and landslides that killed at least 900 people. That same month, flooding in eastern Australia covered an area nearly the size of France and Germany combined. Overall, it was the third wettest year in Australia since recordkeeping began in 1900.
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