Climate chaos 2023 has been a year of climate record-breakers. Sea temperatures hit historic highs, Antarctic sea-ice plunged to worrying lows, and extreme weather whacked every corner of the globe—including an intense heatwave in Brazil that folks called “unbearable.”
Surprise Hot Streak
Now, it’s looking super likely that 2023 will go down as the hottest year ever recorded. But here’s the kicker: none of the big climate science folks saw this coming at the start of the year.
Baffling Temperature Spike
Scientists are scratching their heads over this “gobsmacking” surge in temperatures. They’ve got a few guesses about what might be behind it.
El Niño in a Hurry
One major factor is this speedy arrival of El Niño, a natural weather thing. Basically, warmer waters in the eastern Pacific release extra heat into the air during El Niño, and that usually means a jump in global temperatures.
This 2023 El Niño might be cranking out even more warmth than usual. Why? Well, before this, the world was in a long cool phase called La Niña, keeping a lid on temperatures. During that time, oceans soaked up a ton of heat, and now it’s like that heat’s being let loose into the atmosphere.
Speedy Climate Changes
Usually, there’s a few months’ delay between the peak of El Niño and the highest global temps. But this time, temperatures shot up way faster than expected, even before this El Niño hit its maximum strength. Scientists are calling it a “weird” one.
Air Pollution Dilemma
Here’s a twist: efforts to clean up the air might be backfiring when it comes to warming. Some tiny airborne particles, called aerosols, usually reflect the Sun’s energy away from Earth, cooling things down. But cutting down on certain air pollutants—like sulphate—might actually be causing temperatures to rise.
Remember that massive eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano in January 2022? Well, besides all the chaos it caused, it pumped a whopping 150 million tonnes of water vapor into the stratosphere. And guess what? Water vapor is a greenhouse gas like carbon dioxide, so it might’ve added to the warming.
Antarctic sea-ice hit record-low levels in September. See, normally, more ice means the Sun’s energy gets bounced back, keeping things cool. But with less bright, reflective ice, the darker ocean absorbs more of that energy, making things heat up faster.
While recent warming rates have been faster, they haven’t totally gone beyond what scientists predicted from climate models. So, that’s kind of reassuring—it’s not like we’re in a runaway climate change situation yet.
Climate’s Wild Card
But here’s the deal: some top scientists are warning that we might not have seen the full effects of the greenhouse gases we’ve already pumped out. They think there’s more warming “in the pipeline,” especially because of the aerosols cooling things down artificially.
The bottom line? Climate change is as bad as experts thought, and that’s already pretty grim. The crazy climate chaos of 2023 should be a wakeup call for serious action, especially before COP28—the big climate summit.
Urgent Action Needed
The message is clear: we’ve got to speed up getting rid of fossil fuels before things get even worse. As Lili Fuhr puts it, we can’t wait for things to get worse than expected to start fixing this mess. Climate change is a big problem, and we need to deal with it, pronto.