Global temps 1.2C warmer in 2023 than any year since record-keeping began

  • Temperatures around the world were 1.2 degrees Celsius warmer than in 2023 than any year prior.
  • While El Niño and La Niña have affected temperatures, human activity that burns fossil fuels has the largest effect of all.
  • Human activity can have a slight cooling effect on temperatures but this cooling is minimal in comparison to the warming effect fossil fuel use has on our climate.

Toward the end of the year, a heatwave battered many parts of South Africa and unfortunately, the bad news is that the heat locals experienced was the trend worldwide.

On Friday, NASA, its Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), announced that 2023 was the hottest year since record-keeping began in the 1980s. On average, global temperatures were 1.2 degrees Celsius higher than the baseline.

“The exceptional warming that we’re experiencing is not something we’ve seen before in human history. It’s driven primarily by our fossil fuel emissions, and we’re seeing the impacts in heat waves, intense rainfall, and coastal flooding,” the director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Gavin Schmidt explains in a press release.

The trio of organisations reports that typically, a variation in yearly temperatures is driven by El Niño – Southern Oscillation ocean climate pattern in the Pacific Ocean. There are two phases to this pattern namely El Niño and La Niña. Since 2020 there have been three consecutive cooling phases – La Niña – with the transition to the warming El Niño phase occurring in May 2023. This is not especially strange but, record temperatures occurring before El Niño peaks in February, March and April aren’t normal and could point to even warmer temperatures as we move deeper into 2024.

Scientists say that volcanic eruptions, particularly the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai undersea volcano eruption in 2022 only helped cool temperatures by 0.1 degrees Celsius in the Southern hemisphere. Volcanic aerosol generated during the eruption helps to reflect sunlight away from Earth but as you can see, its effect is minimal.

“The record-setting year of 2023 underscores the significance of urgent and continued actions to address climate change,” deputy director of NASA, Pam Melroy, said in a statement.

“Recent legislation has delivered the U.S. government’s largest-ever climate investment, including billions to strengthen America’s resilience to the increasing impacts of the climate crisis. As an agency focused on studying our changing climate, NASA’s fleet of Earth observing satellites will continue to provide critical data of our home planet at scale to help all people make informed decisions,” Melroy added.

NASA’s data shows that global temperatures have been on a steady march upward since humans began using fossil fuels. The gases released when burning these fuels create a blanket within the atmosphere that prevents heat from escaping. Carbon dioxide concentration reached a peak of 424 parts per million at NOAA’s Mauna Loa Observatory, Hawaii back in May 2023.

Looking further back than NASA’s record keeping is possible using ice cores and when looking at these, carbon dioxide concentration is higher than it has been in at least 800 000 years. While some aerosols created by humans do help to cool the Earth, this effect is minimal and likely only cools certain regions rather than the whole globe.

Assuming humans do not affect the climate then is folly and does nothing but prevent action being taken by lawmakers.

“We are very interested in the weather and extremes of any particular year because those are the things that impact us. But the key difference between this decade and the ones before is that the temperatures keep rising because of our activities, principally the burning of fossil fuels,” Schmidt concludes.

[Iamge – Marek Piwnicki on Unsplash]


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