Expect more temp records to tumble says EU’s climate monitor

“We’ve never seen temperatures like we did in 2023” says the Australian deputy director of one of the world’s major climate science centres.

It’s just a part of a busy year for climate policy expert Dr Sam Burgess.

Back home for the annual conference of the nation’s atmospheric scientists and oceanographers, the deputy director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service – or C3S, the climate change division of the EU space program’s Earth observation component – arrived on the back of a major announcement from her agency.

C3S’ January bulletin declared the last 12 months had been, on average, 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

That figure is a symbol of efforts to curb global warming, 1.5°C being the ambitious target set out in the Paris Climate Agreement. While the unwelcome announcement doesn’t mark the end of the agreement’s endeavour (climate is measured retrospectively over decades), it’s not a good sign.

Worse, it doesn’t look like a blip either, not at the moment anyway.

“We’ve never seen temperatures like we did in 2023 and that trend has continued into 2024,” she tells Cosmos.

“We’re looking at start 2023 with the warmest sea temperatures that we’ve had for January and then at the end of January/early February, we have the warmest sea surface temperatures [SSTs] ever.”

Considering the oceans cover about 70% of the planet and act as a massive heat sponge, that’s not an encouraging sign.

Sam burgess
Dr Sam Burgess. Credit: C3S

The previous SST high point was set in August 2023, around the same time global monitors reported the planet’s warmest temperatures on record.

That, Burgess said, came as a particular surprise.

“Normally the maximum in ocean temperatures is at the end of March – the end of the [southern hemisphere] summer, and that is because there’s more ocean in the southern hemisphere.”

More dark oceans mean less light reflectance, more heat absorbance and a peak in SSTs as southern nations experience their hottest temperatures.

SSTs did peak in March, reduced into the middle of the year, peaked suddenly in August and then dipped again.

“Then since November, it’s been increasing again with solar radiation,” Burgess says.

“And we’ve seen record temperatures over the last few days. So, basically, global temperatures are likely to remain really high while we have so much heat in the surface of the ocean.”

For Copernicus, a relatively young planet monitoring service compared to long-established groups like NASA, NOAA and even Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology, assisting with the provision of global climate data is one of its chief priorities – it isn’t just servicing Europe, but making its observations and analysis available worldwide.

That includes communicating the complexity of climate systems.

“We are reporting on what the climate is doing,” Burgess says.

“The reason behind what the climate is doing can often be very complicated and I think that’s when scientists can do themselves a disservice by trying to represent the complexity of the system and the dynamic nature of weather, rather than speaking to what the reality of the situation is.

“So what C3S does very well is it describes the situation as it has been, whether that’s in the last month, or right now, or in the last year.”

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