UN Declares an El Niño as Ocean Temperatures Rise

The UN’s Weather Agency has declared that the world is now experiencing an ‘El Niño’, as ocean temperatures around Australia have recorded a 0.5C increase. El Niño can influence weather extremes around the globe, affecting many countries differently. For Australia, this means increased risk of drought, heatwave, bushfires, and coral bleaching. For the UK, El Niño can mean much colder winters and much warmer summers with an increased risk of heatwaves.

An El Niño is the name for the phenomenon of the warming of the seas surface temperature, typically concentrated in the central-east equatorial pacific. They are officially declared when the sea temperatures rise 0.5C above the long-term average.

Typically occurring every few years, the effects of El Niño often peak during December. However, the increased rate of this phenomena over the past few years point to a clear climate issue causing the seas to warm faster than usual.

Coupled with global heating, the effects of El Niño are likely to push global recorded temperatures to an all time high this year or next.

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Australian Pacific Coast

Despite the UN recognising the warning signs of El Niño, Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology have not agreed with the declaration. They state that the threshold for an El Niño “have not been observed.” They go on to add, “this means the Pacific Ocean and atmosphere have yet to become fully coupled, as occurs during El Niño events…El Niño typically suppresses winter-spring rainfall in eastern Australia.”

This statement comes after the Bureau issued an apology for incorrect recorded temperatures of the Australian seas. Their update last month claimed it was the hottest yet for ocean temperatures since records began. However, this week they have claimed that was a mistake and the recordings are incorrect. Despite this, international climate models surveyed by the Bureau – including its own – all show that ocean temperatures in the tropical Pacific will stay above El Niño thresholds “at least into the beginning of the southern hemisphere summer,” the Bureau said.

An additional study published by the CSIRO have cited human-caused global warming as the likely cause of El Niño since the 1960’s. The world’s ocean has absorbed about 90% of the extra heat caused mainly by burning fossil fuels that cause greenhouse gas to accumulate in the atmosphere.

A separate study found that the ocean had gained 10 zettajoules of energy produced by heat absorption in 2022, more than any other recorded year before. This is roughly equivalent to 100 times the total electricity gained worldwide in 2021.