A new study from NASA reports that 2009 is tied as the second warmest year since modern recording began in 1880, falling a fraction of a degree behind 2005.

The study, conducted by NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), also indicates 2000-09 was the hottest decade on record.

GISS statistics indicate that global temperatures have been rising since records began. GISS analysts insist that a gradual warming is still occurring, despite critics’ claims that unseasonably cool temperatures in the United States and Canada suggest that a “global cooling” is more likely.

A cool winter does not negate climate change, “though you can’t dismiss people’s concerns and questions about the fact that local temperatures have been cool. Just remember that there’s always going to be variability,” according to Gavin Schmidt, GISS climate researcher, in an interview with the NASA Earth Science News Team.

“That’s weather. As a result, some areas will still have occasionally cool temperatures – even record-breaking cool – as average temperatures are expected to continue to rise globally. Also keep in mind that the contiguous United States represents just 1.5 percent of Earth’s surface.”

Since 1880, average global temperatures have increased about 0.8 degrees Celsius (or 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit), the NASA report stated.

The NASA report differs slightly from the Met Office Hadley Centre, a research group in the United Kingdom, which expected 2009 to be the fifth warmest year on record. The difference is due to the way data is used, Schmidt explained. Instead of leaving out portions of the Arctic and Antarctic regions without monitoring systems, GISS uses numbers from nearby stations, within 740 miles, to fill in the gaps.

“Overall, this gives the GISS product more complete coverage of the Earth’s polar regions,” Schmidt said. “The assumption involved in this is simply that the Arctic Ocean as a whole is warming at the average of the stations around it.”

He explained that the Hadley Centre also makes assumptions by leaving the numbers out. The Centre’s calculations assume that “the Arctic is warming at the same rate as the global average.”

While the specific numbers from the two research organizations differ, both document global warming trends.

Many scientists believe that the warming trend is due to rising level of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. According to these climate scientists, the gases trap heat near the Earth’s surface, leading to a gradual increase in global temperatures.

While some conservative evangelicals have denied climate change, a number of Baptist leaders and ethicists recognize the need to reduce significantly the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and stress that Christians have a God-given mandate to care for creation.

In June, more than 140 leaders signed a Baptist Center for Ethics letter endorsing the “American Clean Energy and Security Act” that was sent to each member of the U. S. House of Representatives.

“Planet Earth is the Lord’s and we are caretakers of it,” the letter states. “When we guard the environment, we also protect the marginalized and those most vulnerable to droughts, floods, deteriorating ecosystems and diseases.”

In June, the House of Representatives passed the “American Clean Energy and Security Act,” by a 219-212 vote. The bill is under consideration in the U.S. Senate.

The Micah Network, a global Christian relief, development and justice organization, adopted a statement in July that confessed the sin of failing to care for the earth and called for action on climate change.

Both GISS and the Hadley Centre predict that 2010 will be the hottest year on record.

Jennifer Harris is a former Word & Way news writer, who is now a student at Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Shawnee, Kan.

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