April 21, 2024


Record temperatures in 2024 on land and at sea have prompted scientists to question whether these anomalies are consistent with predicted global warming patterns or whether they represent an alarming acceleration of climate degradation.

Heat over the oceans remains persistently, freakishly high, despite a weakening of El ninowhich has been one of the main drivers of record global temperatures in recent years.

Scientists are divided about the extraordinary temperatures of sea air. Some emphasize that current trends are within climate model projections of how the world will warm due to human burning of fossil fuels and forests. Others are confused and worried about the speed of change, because the ocean is the Earth’s great heat moderator and absorbs more than 90% from anthropogenic warming.

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Earlier this month, the World Meteorological Organization announced that El Niño, a naturally occurring climate pattern associated with the warming of the Pacific Ocean, had peaked and had an 80% chance of disappearing completely between April and June, although its effects would continue.

WMO Secretary-General Celeste Saulo said El Niño contributed to making 2023 easily the hottest year on record, although the biggest culprit was fossil fuel emissions.

When it came to oceans, she said, the picture was murkier and more disturbing: “The sea surface temperature of January 2024 was by far the highest on record for January. This is worrying and cannot be explained by El Niño alone.”

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Sea surface temperatures in February were also warmer than any month on record, breaking the record set last August, according to Europe’s Copernicus satellite monitoring program.

Worldwide, the heat above the land and sea was remarkable. Between February 8 and 11, global temperatures were more than 2C above the 1850-1900 average. Over the month as a whole, Europe experienced heat that was 3.3C above that benchmark.

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Carlo Buontempo, the director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service, said it was a foretaste of what was to come as a result of the increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere: “Unless we manage to stabilize it, we will inevitably have new global temperature records face and their consequences.”

Heat records become the norm, but the extent of the anomaly above the sea caused concern.

Carlos Nobre, one of Brazil’s most influential climatologists, said no climate model had accurately predicted how high sea surface temperatures would reach in the past 12 months. Given the continued heat over the ocean, he said 2024 was likely to be another unusually warm year for the world as a whole.

The anomaly is strongest in the North Atlantic, where Brian McNoldy, a climatologist at the University of Miami, calculated the deviation from statistical averages as a one-in-284,000-year event. “It’s been a record-warming year, often by seemingly impossible margins,” he tweeted. He described the trends as “deeply worrying”.

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Zeke Hausvadera scientist at Berkeley Earth in the US, said global ocean and surface temperatures were “quite high”, but he said they were still well within the projections of climate models: “We still have no strong evidence from observations to suggest that the world is warming faster than expected given human emissions.”

The impact on corals and other forms of marine life is incalculable. Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is suffered its fifth mass bleaching event in eight years. Meteorologists warn that high surface temperatures could also predict a longer and more active hurricane season.

Raúl Cordero, a climate professor at the University of Groningen and the University of Santiago, said the growing possibility of a cooling La Niña between June and August could bring relief from the global heat, but it would only be temporary: “All recent temperature records are likely to be broken sooner rather than later. The situation will continue to deteriorate until we stop burning fossil fuels.”





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