back

Isabel Lindim

Why does 2023 promise to be the hottest year?

28 Sep 2023 - 12:19
We've had the hottest summer in the Anthropocene era. Everything indicates that it will also be the hottest year, partly due to the El Niño phenomenon. Find out how this combination of factors is working out.

On September 6, 2023, a few weeks before "closing" the summer, Copernicus, the European climate observation and monitoring program, announced that the months of June, July and August 2023 were the hottest on record. "The global average surface air temperature during August 2023 was 16.82°C, 0.71°C hotter than the August average from 1991-2020 and 0.31°C hotter than the previous hottest August in 2016," the statement said.

"Eight months after the start of 2023, we are experiencing the second warmest year to date, only slightly less than 2016, and August is estimated to have been around 1.5°C warmer than pre-industrial levels," commented Carlo Buontempo, Director of the Copernicus Service. What we are seeing, he says, is not just new extremes, "but the persistence of these record conditions, and the impacts they have on people and the planet".

The European Climate Observation and Monitoring Program announced that the months of June, July and August 2023 were the hottest on record.

Heatwaves, hurricanes, fires and floods such as in Libya (with around 25,000 deaths) are some of the consequences of a combination of factors that cause these extreme phenomena.

The data for August 2023 "shows drier than average conditions in the Iberian Peninsula, southern France, Iceland and much of Eastern Europe. Greece, Italy, France and Portugal recorded significant forest fires," explains the Copernicus press release. On the other hand, August this year also saw wetter than average conditions in a large part of Central Europe and Scandinavia, often with heavy rains that led to flooding. In the USA, in certain northern regions, the increase in humidity was due to Hurricane Hilary.

August this year also saw wetter than average conditions in a large part of Central Europe and Scandinavia.

Temperature rises are considered by scientists to be anomalies - the difference between the actual temperature and the average temperature for a given reference period. Their occurrence is intensified by climate change. In August, the British newspaper "The Guardian" published an article in which it gathered the testimony of 45 climate researchers. The predictions from decades ago were right. For them, this is the new normal, with consequences that are hard to predict.

The trajectory of rising temperatures has been as projected. However, the consequences have been worse, because the impact of a heatwave or hurricane is never certain. It depends on the infrastructure of each region and the vulnerability of the population.

One of the scientists interviewed for "The Guardian", Michael Mann, from the University of Pennsylvania, USA, states that: "there is a misconception, however, that these extreme weather events constitute a kind of 'tipping point' that we have crossed. They are directly linked to surface warming, which is remarkably constant, except for temporary fluctuations due to events such as El Niño."

These climatic events are directly linked to surface warming, which is remarkably constant, except for temporary fluctuations due to things like El Niño
Michael Mann, climatologist and geophysicist at the University of Pennsylvania

The planet's temperature is determined by retained heat, which in turn is the result of the increase in greenhouse gases emitted by human activities and, to a lesser extent, natural climate variation. While carbon emissions have been on the rise for several decades, 2023 was also a year of El Niño, a phenomenon that increases global temperatures, unlike La Niña.

Let's not forget that the Earth's largest surface area is the oceans, and they too are getting warmer. Temperatures in the North Atlantic Ocean reached a new record of 25.19ºC on August 31st. Accompanying the rise in sea temperatures is the loss of sea ice in Antarctica.

The sporadic El Niño event, caused by the warming of surface waters in the Pacific Ocean, adds heat to a situation of rising global temperatures caused by greenhouse gas emissions. The result is extreme weather conditions, as we have seen in different parts of the world.

Global average sea surface temperatures also beat the previous record, set in March 2016.

2016 continues to be the hottest year ever recorded, due to El Niño from 2014 to 2016. Today, this natural phenomenon is once again creating the conditions for 2023 to be the hottest year on record, with record heat waves on land and in the oceans. Global average sea surface temperatures beat the previous record, set in March 2016. The peak of El Niño's effects will be in December, with the strongest impacts in South America. It will be yet another extreme experience for humanity.