Rising temperatures. Unusually hot oceans. Record high carbon pollution in the atmosphere and low ice levels in Antarctica.
We’re only halfway through 2023, and so many climate records are being broken that some scientists are sounding the alarm, fearing it could be a sign the planet is warming much faster than expected.
In a widely shared tweet, Brian McNoldy, senior research fellow at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric and Earth Science, called rising sea and air temperatures “completely insane.”
He added: “People who watch this stuff regularly can’t believe their eyes. Something very strange is happening.”
Other scientists said the records, while alarming, were not unexpected given both increasing pollution from the planet’s warming and the occurrence of the natural climate phenomenon El Niño, which has a global warming effect.
Whether the broken records are a sign that climate change is going beyond what models predicted, or are the result of a climate crisis unfolding as expected, they remain a very worrying signal of what is to come, they said Scientist.
“These changes are deeply troubling because they mean for people over the coming summer and every summer thereafter until we reduce our carbon emissions at a much faster rate than we are currently doing,” Jennifer Marlon, a researcher at the Yale School of the Environment, told CNN.
The world is already 1.2 degrees Celsius warmer than it was in pre-industrial times, and the next five years are expected to be the hottest on record.
“We’ve been saying this for a long time — as polar explorers and as climate scientists — we’ve been saying that it can be counted on to get steadily warmer over the next few decades,” says Ted Scambos, a glaciologist at the University of Colorado. Boulder, CNN said. “We will not turn back until we actually do something about it.”
Here are four charts showing how record-breaking this year has already been, and the hottest months are yet to come.
This year is poised to be one of the hottest as global data shows temperatures are reaching unusually high levels.
According to an analysis released on Thursday by the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service, the first 11 days of June saw by far the highest temperatures on record for this time of year. It was also the first time global air temperatures in June exceeded pre-industrial levels by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, the scientists noted.
Heat records are being broken all over the world.
Temperatures have broken multiple records in Canada, where an unusually oppressive heatwave is sweeping across much of the country. The heat has helped set the stage for “unprecedented” early wildfires that are already burning an area about 15 times larger than the average for this time of year and are pouring dangerous smoke into the United States.
Multiple all-time heat records were also broken in Siberia earlier in the month, when temperatures soared to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Parts of Central America, as well as Texas and Louisiana, are also facing sweltering temperatures. And Puerto Rico experienced extreme heat this June, with temperatures exceeding 120 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the National Weather Service.
Parts of Southeast Asia experienced the “worst heatwave on record” while record temperatures in China killed animals and crops and raised food security concerns.
“The current situation is bizarre,” Phil Reid of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology told CNN. “The strangest El Niño ever. How do you define or declare an El Niño when it’s hot everywhere?”
The oceans are heating up at record levels and there is no sign of stopping. Soaring sea surface temperatures alerted scientists in March when they began rising, then surged to hit record highs in April, leaving scientists desperate for the cause.
Last month was the hottest May on record for the world’s oceans, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It’s a warming pattern that has been going on for years. In 2022, the world’s oceans broke heat records for the fourth year in a row.
Climatologist Maximiliano Herrera, who closely monitors extreme temperatures around the globe, said he didn’t think the rapid warming was coming anytime soon. “Even before El Niño was officially declared, the tropics and oceans were already experiencing very rapid warming,” Herrera told CNN. “That was to be expected, yes,” he added. “But not as fast as before.”
The warming of the oceans has serious consequences, including coral bleaching, the death of marine life and rising sea levels. And while El Niño typically heralds a less active Atlantic hurricane season, high ocean temperatures help fuel it and potentially negate or outweigh the dampening effect of El Niño.
Antarctic sea ice is currently at a record low for this time of year. Some scientists fear this is another sign that the climate crisis has arrived in this isolated region.
In late February, Antarctic sea ice reached 691,000 square miles, its lowest extent since records began in the 1970s. It was “not just ‘barely a record low,'” Scambos told CNN at the time. “It’s a very steep downtrend.”
While winter has arrived in Antarctica and sea ice is starting to grow again, levels for this time of year are still at record lows.
The decline is “truly extraordinary and alarming,” Scambos said, underlining that Antarctica’s sea ice extent is about 386,000 square miles — about twice the area of California — below what it should be for this time of year.
“2023 is just stepping into crazy territory,” he said. Both Reid and Scambos said there was a connection between this decline and warmer waters off the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Even a tenth of a degree warming is enough to inhibit sea ice growth.
The loss of sea ice is also causing severe damage to the continent’s species, including penguins, which rely on the sea ice for feeding and hatching.
“The bottom line is that the conditions that the Antarctic system depends on to hold heat and ice and certain types of water in place are breaking down a bit,” Scambos said. “It started with an unusual series of storms in 2016, but there has been an ongoing effect that is now causing more heat to be kicked up into the polar water layer and stifling sea ice growth.”
Airborne carbon dioxide levels released from burning fossil fuels hit a record high in May, scientists from NOAA and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego reported earlier this month.
The record 424 parts per million is “a steady climb into territory not seen for millions of years,” the scientists said in a statement. According to NOAA, the carbon load fueling the climate crisis is now more than 50% higher than before the industrial revolution began.
“Each year we see an increase in carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere as a direct result of human activity,” NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad said in a statement. “Every year we see the effects of climate change in heat waves, droughts, floods, wildfires and storms all around us.”