A tourist takes a selfie at the popular National Park Furnace Creek Visitor Center in Death Valley, California on July 16, 2023, when the thermometer showed 128 degrees Fahrenheit. Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

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If you thought this year was exceptionally hot, you were right. Not only has it been the warmest year on record, it’s on track to be the warmest the planet has been in a quarter of a million years.

Scientists at the Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) say 2023 is almost certain to be the warmest year in 125,000 years, following last month’s data showing October was the hottest globally for that period, reported Reuters.

“This makes me nervous about what is to come. When we combine all the data together, the global air temperature records, the global sea surface temperature records, the global sea ice records, all of these indications together really show us that our climate is changing at a very rapid pace and we have to adapt to the climate that we are facing right now,” said Samantha Burgess, deputy director of C3S, in a press release from the service. “We can say with virtual certainty that 2023 will be the warmest year on record.”

Princeton University climate scientist Dr. Zachary Labe said the persistently high jumps in temperature surprised him.

“As a climate scientist, I’m used to saying that this month is a new record high, but the deviation compared to any previous record is what’s really surprising and that’s what we’re all really trying to disentangle to find out what the causes are,” Labe said in the press release.

Burgess pointed out that, for the past three months, global temperatures have exceeded 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

“This doesn’t mean we have broken the Paris Agreement, but the reality is that the more days, weeks, or months we have above 1.5°C, the sooner we will exceed the Paris Agreement limit,” Burgess said.

Burgess added that the record low levels of Antarctic sea ice extent were being caused by warmer temperatures in the ocean and atmosphere, as well as by feedback mechanisms.

Labe said there were no long-term trends of sea ice loss in the Antarctic like there were in the Arctic

“[S]ince about 2016 we started to observe a difference in the amount of Antarctic sea ice; we started to have several years that were particularly low. So, the big question is — what has changed since 2016, and are we finally starting to see the influence of human-caused climate change more clearly emerge in the Antarctic,” Labe said in the press release.

C3S said October of this year was much warmer than the previous record for October, set in 2019, Reuters reported.

“The record was broken by 0.4 degrees Celsius, which is a huge margin,” Burgess said, as reported by Reuters.

Labe explained that, while global average temperatures are important for understanding long-term trends and indicators of climate change, regional temperatures could be different.

“The warming of the tropical Pacific with El Niño combined with the warming all across the Atlantic has been what’s alarming about this year,” Labe said in the press release.

University of Pennsylvania climate scientist Michael Mann said that most years where El Niño is a factor break temperature records “because the extra global warmth of El Nino adds to the steady ramp of human-caused warming,” Reuters reported.

Burgess observed that the world’s ocean was the warmest it had ever been in August of 2023, and next year’s El Niño was starting off with unprecedentedly warm ocean temperatures.

“We are all watching the data very closely to understand how this will evolve and what implications it has for weather and for climate trends in 2024, and for extreme events around the world,” Burgess said in the press release. She added that it was likely 2024 would break the record again.

Dr. Lucy Hubble-Rose, deputy director of the Climate Action Unit at University College London (UCL), said that when change was necessary “action paralysis” sometimes caused people and organizations to disengage and begin to reject information.

“Building your own individual sense of agency is really important,” Hubble-Rose commented, saying that an approach that “actions drive beliefs” can build a more comprehensive understanding of environmental benefits and lead to additional change.

Climate risk information needs to be translated into how it affects individual systems, Hubble-Rose said, in order to drive an examination of how to change how things are done.

“What is really important is how to support organisations from this moment towards being able to make change happen,” Hubble-Rose said in the press release.

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