In a recent briefing, NASA’s leading climate authority Gavin Schmidt, the director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, warned that this July could potentially mark Earth’s hottest month for the first time in centuries, if not millennia.
The assertion comes as an unrelenting heatwave scorches large portions of the US, particularly the south, a meteorological phenomenon highlighting the escalating severity of the climate crisis.
Schmidt presented his forecast during a meeting at NASA’s Washington headquarters, which gathered agency climate experts including NASA administrator Bill Nelson and chief scientist and senior climate adviser Kate Calvin.
The assembly was set against the backdrop of a summer that has underscored the pressing reality of climate change: devastating floods in New England, choking smoke from Canadian wildfires afflicting US cities, and tens of millions of Americans under heat advisories due to record-breaking temperatures in the south and west of the country.
“We are seeing unprecedented changes all over the world,” Schmidt noted. The director elaborated that while these dramatic shifts may seem startling, they were expected by the scientific community, citing “a decade-on-decade increase in temperatures throughout the last four decades.”
Schmidt’s announcement comes on the heels of NASA’s recent disclosure that last month was Earth’s hottest June on record according to their global temperature analysis.
The current trend, Schmidt suggests, is “certainly increasing the chances” of 2023 becoming the hottest year on record. His estimations indicate a 50% likelihood of this happening, while some models propose a staggering 80% probability.
Furthermore, the prognosis for 2024 is even more alarming, predicted to surpass 2023’s projected record-breaking temperatures.
Scientists anticipate an El Niño weather pattern, infamous for amplifying global temperatures, to peak towards the end of this year. Schmidt recalls how the most recent significant El Niño event, which transpired between 2014 to 2016, culminated in each of those years successively setting new global temperature records, with 2016 holding the current title for Earth’s hottest year ever recorded.
The assembly of experts attending the meeting echoed Schmidt’s concerns, collectively raising an alarm over Earth’s rapid transformation. These climatic alterations were linked unequivocally to greenhouse gas emissions. However, they hesitated to explicitly attribute these emissions predominantly to fossil fuel consumption.
Scientific consensus affirms that “human activity and principally greenhouse gas emissions are unavoidably causing the warming that we’re seeing on our planet,” according to Calvin. She stressed the wide-ranging impacts of global warming on both human societies and ecosystems around the world.
However, the discussion wasn’t solely focused on the grim realities of climate change. NASA’s leaders spotlighted the agency’s extensive climate-centered initiatives designed to assist governments in combating and preparing for the repercussions of the climate crisis. As Nelson pointed out, “NASA is also a climate agency.”
Among its initiatives, NASA’s newest venture, the Earth Information Center, aims to democratize climate data from the agency’s 25 satellites, making it accessible in real time. An exhibition featuring the initiative recently opened at the agency’s headquarters, with an online counterpart set to debut on NASA’s website next week.
The agency also outlined a range of other projects that track environmental changes, from air pollution and methane emissions to tropical cyclones and hurricanes. Additionally, NASA is striving to mitigate planet-warming pollution through research into lower-carbon forms of air travel.
Despite some opposition from rightwing lawmakers seeking to slash funding for climate-related projects, including some of NASA’s, the agency remains committed to advancing its mission.
Karen St. Germain, NASA’s Earth Science division director, emphasized that the agency’s aspiration is not only to accelerate scientific discovery but also to ensure new research bolsters climate preparedness. This ranges “from a farmer assessing what to do with a single field, to global leaders weighing decisions impacting the entire world.”
In summary, as Schmidt’s warnings illustrate, the stakes have never been higher. “Our goal is to put scientific information and understanding out in ways that help the public,” concluded St. Germain, underscoring the urgency of addressing the climate crisis head-on.