We’re only three-quarters through this year, but scientists in China are already forecasting that 2023 is likely to see the hottest global surface temperatures in recorded history. Moreover, there's a good chance we'll see record-smashing temperatures in 2024 too if current trajectories are anything to go by.
There are a few factors driving this trend. Firstly, the long-term trend of human-driven climate change. Secondly, the Earth is currently in its El Niño warming phase, along with the extremely positive phase of the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO), which both influence global surface temperatures.
Altogether, the researchers of this latest study argue that the annual average surface temperature anomaly in 2023 could be around 1.26°C (2.26°F) higher than the previous record seen in 2016 of approximately 1.25°C (2.25°F).
Scientists at Sun Yat-sen University in China based their findings on data from the China global Merged Surface Temperature dataset 2.0 (CMST 2.0), the most comprehensive global surface temperature benchmark dataset to date.
Their analysis found that 2023 has already experienced the third hottest first six months of the year since records began, beaten only by 2016 and 2020.
Since then, the situation has continued, with temperatures reaching unprecedented highs for July and shattering previous records. The world’s hottest day since records began was seen on July 3, 2023, but it was quickly beaten by temperatures on July 4, which was almost 1°C (1.8°F) higher than the 1979-2000 average.
These baking temperatures, in part, can be explained by El Niño-Southern Oscillation, the pattern of climate fluctuations in the Pacific Ocean that has a global impact on the world. Around June, the planet entered an El Niño phase, which is widely known to be associated with higher global temperatures as the ocean transfers some of the excess heat and moisture to the atmosphere.
With El Niño now in full swing, we can expect to see further high temperatures in the remaining part of 2023.
The planet has already warmed by around 1.2°C above pre-industrial times. With the extra push of El Niño, there’s a chance that Earth’s temperature could temporarily exceed the crucial 1.5°C threshold of the Paris Agreement, marking a disheartening milestone in the planet’s climate crisis.
“With El Niño triggering a record-breaking hottest July, record-breaking average annual temperatures will most likely become a reality in 2023,” the study authors write.
“The acceleration of global warming results in an increase in the probability of various extreme climate events and even disasters,” they add.
These results echo findings earlier this year that had already predicted 2023 would be in the top five hottest years on record if not the hottest once El Niño was confirmed.
“The intensification of global warming will also have a significant impact on human comfort under the condition of accelerating temperature, and human discomfort will increase significantly, which will be more prominent in low latitudes than high latitudes,” the study concludes.
The study is published in the journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences.