Global Warming "Marches On"; Past Decade Hottest Known

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There were also a number of extreme weather events, Jarraud added, including unprecedented heat waves in India, parts of Europe, and Australia. (See a world map of potential global warming impacts.)

Australia experienced its third hottest year on record, and faced three heat waves of remarkable intensity.

This included one in February, labeled Black Saturday, which encouraged 400 wildfires that swept across the state of Victoria, killing 173 people and destroying 3,500 buildings. (See pictures of the Australian fires.)

Other extreme weather events of 2009 included the deadliest typhoon ever known to have hit Taiwan, which left 461 people dead in August, and flooding in the West African country of Burkina Faso, which displaced 150,000.

2009 Temperatures "Frightening"

Jarraud emphasized that temperature trends can vary over time.

"The warming is not uniform—there will still be cold winters, there will be cold summers. What we are talking about here is the trend over large areas and over long periods," he said.

"What will happen is that the cold periods will be become less frequent and the heat waves will become more frequent and more intense."

Andy Pitman, of the Climate Change Research Centre at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, agreed that the findings are significant.

"Given we are in a period of low solar activity, and have been through a sustained La Niña, 2009 should have been a cool year," Pitman said.

"The fact it ranked in the top five since 1850 is actually frightening."

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