We’re only halfway through 2023 and so many climate records are being broken, some scientists are sounding the alarm, fearing it could be a sign of a planet warming much more rapidly than expected.
In a widely shared tweet, Brian McNoldy, senior research associate at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric and Earth Science, called rising ocean and air temperatures “totally bonkers.”
He added, “people who look at this stuff routinely can’t believe their eyes. Something very weird is happening.”
Other scientists have said while the records are alarming, they are not unexpected due to both the continued rise of planet-heating pollution and the arrival of the natural climate phenomenon El Niño, which has a global heating effect.
Whether the broken records are a sign of climate change progressing beyond what climate the models predict, or are the outcome of the climate crisis unfolding as expected, they remain a very concerning signal of what’s to come, scientists said.
“These changes are deeply disturbing because of what they mean for people this coming summer, and every summer after, until we cut our carbon emissions at a much faster pace than we’re currently doing,” Jennifer Marlon, research scientist at Yale School of the Environment, told CNN.
“We’ve been saying this for a long time – as polar scientists and as climate scientists – we’ve been saying you can count on the next few decades to consistently get warmer,” Ted Scambos, a glaciologist at the University of Colorado-Boulder, told CNN. “We’re not going to turn back until we actually do something about this.”
Here are four charts showing just how record-breaking this year has already been, with the hottest months still to come.
This year is shaping up to be one of the hottest yet, with global data showing temperatures spiking to unusually high levels.
The first eleven days of June saw the highest temperatures on record for this time of year by a substantial margin, according to an analysis released Thursday by the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service. It is also the first time global air temperatures during June exceeded preindustrial levels by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, the scientists found.
Heat records are being broken across the world.
In Canada, where an unusually stifling heat wave is blanketing much of the country, temperatures have broken multiple records. The heat has helped set the stage for “unprecedented,” early wildfires already burning an area about 15 times bigger than average for this time of the year and sending hazardous smoke into the United States.
Several all-time heat records were also broken earlier this month in Siberia, as temperatures shot up above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Parts of Central America, as well as Texas and Louisiana are also facing blistering temperatures. And Puerto Rico experienced extreme heat this June, with temperatures feeling like more than 120 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the National Weather Service.
“The current situation is bizarre,” Phil Reid with the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, told CNN. “The strangest El Niño ever. How are you supposed to define or declare an El Niño when everywhere is hot?”
Oceans are heating up to record levels and show no sign of stopping. Rising ocean surface temperatures began alarming scientists in March when they started to climb and then skyrocketed to reach record levels in April, leaving scientists scrambling to figure out why.
Last month was the hottest May on record for the world’s oceans, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It’s a pattern of warming 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 tracks extreme temperatures around the globe, said he didn’t think the rapid warming would come so soon. “Even before El Niño was officially declared, the tropics and the oceans were already experiencing a very fast warming,” Herrera told CNN. “It was expected, yes,” he added. “But not as fast as it has been.”
Ocean warming poses dire consequences, including coral bleaching, the die-off of marine life and rising sea levels. And while El Niño usually ushers in a less active Atlantic hurricane season, high ocean temperatures help fuel them, potentially negating or outweighing El Niño’s dampening effect.
Antarctica’s sea ice is currently at record lows for this time of year, with some scientists concerned it is a further sign the climate crisis has arrived in this isolated region.
In late February, Antarctic sea ice reached its lowest extent since records began in the 1970s, at 691,000 square miles. It’s “not just ‘barely a record low,’” Scambos told CNN at the time. “It’s on a very steep downward trend.”
As the Antarctic has moved into its winter, and the sea ice has started to grow again, levels are still tracking at record low levels for this time of year.
The decline is “truly exceptional and alarming,” Scambos said, underscoring Antarctica’s sea ice extent is roughly 386,000 square miles – about twice the area of California – below where it should be for this time of the year.
“2023 is just heading off into crazy territory,” he said. Both Reid and Scambos said there is a link between this decline and the warm waters off the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Even a tenth of a degree of warming, they said, is enough to inhibit sea ice growth.
The decline in sea ice also poses severe harm to the continent’s species, including penguins who rely on sea ice for feeding and hatching eggs.
“Bottom line, the conditions the Antarctic system depends on to keep heat and ice and certain water types in their place are breaking down a little bit,” Scambos said. “It started with an unusual series of storms in 2016, but there’s been a persistent effect that is now leading to more heat being stirred up into the polar water layer, and that is stifling sea ice growth.”
The levels of carbon dioxide in the air, which is released from the burning of fossil fuels, hit a record in May, scientists from NOAA and Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California in San Diego reported early this month.
The record of 424 parts per million continues “a steady climb further into territory not seen for millions of years,” the scientists noted in a statement. Carbon pollution levels, which fuel the climate crisis, are now more than 50% higher than they were before the Industrial Revolution began, NOAA has said.
“Every year we see carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere increase as a direct result of human activity,” NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad said in a statement. “Every year, we see the impacts of climate change in the heat waves, droughts, flooding, wildfires and storms happening all around us.”