Global Ocean Warming1

Off the Chart Temperatures Predicted as El Niño Returns in 2023

El Nino 2023 MapLast year was the fifth hottest on record, but with the return of El Niño — the climate pattern that warms the surface of the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean — 2023 could prove to be even hotter. The picture shows the predicted 2023 El Niño’s heating impact on the Pacific region and Hawaii.

Preliminary forecasts indicate the possibility of the return of El Niño later this year, which scientists say could cause “off the chart” temperature increases, along with record heat waves, reported The Guardian. This would make it “very likely” that Earth’s temperature will warm by more than the 1.5 degrees Celsius temperature threshold, above which the risk of deadly extreme weather and related crises — like large-scale droughtwater and food shortages, faminesea level rise, species die-off and loss of ecosystems — increases dramatically.

“It’s very likely that the next big El Niño could take us over 1.5C,” said head of long range prediction at the UK Met Office professor Adam Scaife, as The Irish Times reported. “The probability of having the first year at 1.5C in the next five-year period is now about 50:50.”

In 2016, the planet experienced its hottest year ever with the influence of El Niño. Earth’s weather patterns are driven by ocean surface temperatures and winds in the Pacific Ocean. These alternate between El Niño, the cooler La Niña — which was in effect the last three years — and conditions that are neutral.

“We know that under climate change, the impacts of El Niño events are going to get stronger, and you have to add that to the effects of climate change itself, which is growing all the time,” Scaife said, as reported by The Irish Times. “You put those two things together, and we are likely to see unprecedented heatwaves during the next El Niño.”

El Niño happens during winter in the northern hemisphere, which means the heat from it is more likely to be felt the following year — in this case, in 2024.

“We suggest that 2024 is likely to be off the chart as the warmest year on record. It is unlikely that the current La Niña will continue a fourth year. Even a little futz of an El Niño should be sufficient for record global temperature,” said professor James Hansen at Columbia University last year. He added that the decrease in China’s air pollution — which obscures the sun — was also leading to a rise in heating.

To date, human emitted greenhouse gases have led to a global temperature increase of about 1.2 degrees Celsius, causing heat waves and severe drought in Europe and the U.S., catastrophic flooding in Nigeria and Pakistan and extreme weather across the globe.

In many parts of the world, the El Niño-La Niña cycle causes the most weather variations from year to year.

“Science can now tell us when these things are coming months ahead. So we really do need to use it and be more prepared, from having readiness of emergency services right down to what crops to plant,” Scaife said, as The Guardian reported.

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