NASA confirms 2023 as the warmest year on Earth
Unprecedented heatwaves affected millions last year
NASA’s recent analysis has confirmed 2023 as the warmest year ever recorded on Earth.
According to scientists from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York, the global temperatures soared to approximately 1.2 degrees Celsius above the average for NASA’s baseline period (1951-1980).
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson expressed grave concern: “NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s global temperature report confirms what billions of people worldwide experienced last year; we are facing a climate crisis.”
Nelson highlighted the visible impacts of this crisis, ranging from extreme heat and wildfires to rising sea levels.
Global records set
Throughout 2023, hundreds of millions worldwide grappled with unprecedented heatwaves, culminating each month from June through December, setting global records for their respective periods.
Notably, July emerged as the hottest month ever recorded. Earth experienced a staggering 1.4 degrees Celsius increase compared to the late 19th-century average, marking a stark departure from historical norms.
Gavin Schmidt, Director of GISS, emphasised the exceptional nature of this warmest weather trend, attributing it primarily to fossil fuel emissions. He pointed to the tangible impacts of heatwaves, intense rainfall, and coastal flooding.
While acknowledging the established link between the planet’s long-term warming trend and human activities, scientists diligently explore other factors contributing to yearly or multi-year climate variations. These include El Niño, aerosols, pollution, and volcanic eruptions.
The El Niño–Southern Oscillation Ocean climate pattern in the Pacific Ocean, a significant influencer of year-to-year variability, transitioned from La Niña to El Niño in May 2023.
Despite expectations of El Niño’s peak impact in the following months, record temperatures in the latter half of the year preceded this event.
Scientists also probed the potential influence of the January 2022 eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai undersea volcano. Findings revealed that by reflecting sunlight away from Earth, volcanic aerosols led to a slight cooling in the Southern Hemisphere.
Gavin Schmidt cautioned, “Even with occasional cooling factors like volcanoes or aerosols, we will continue to break records as long as greenhouse gas emissions keep increasing.” Unfortunately, he noted a new record for greenhouse gas emissions in the past year.
NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy stressed the urgency of continued actions to address climate change. She highlighted recent legislation, delivering the largest-ever climate investment by the US government, aimed at fortifying America’s resilience against the escalating impacts of the climate crisis.
NASA’s temperature record, assembled from surface air and sea temperature data, underwent thorough analysis. Independent analyses by NOAA and the Hadley Centre corroborated NASA’s findings, indicating 2023 to be the warmest global surface temperature since modern record-keeping began. While slight variations may exist in rankings, the consensus affirms the alarming long-term warming trend in recent decades.
Featured image: This map of Earth in 2023 shows global surface temperature anomalies, or how much warmer or cooler each region was compared to the average from 1951 to 1980. Normal temperatures are shown in white, higher-than-normal red and orange, and lower-than-normal blue. An animated version of this map shows global temperature anomalies changing over time, dating back to 1880. Image: NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio