2023: 'bonkers year' for global climate

Records were once again broken last year for greenhouse gas levels, surface temperatures, ocean heat and acidification, sea level rise, and retreat of glaciers, according to a new global report issued by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) March 19. The WMO State of the Global Climate 2023 report finds that on an average day that year, nearly one third of the ocean surface was gripped by a marine heatwave, harming vital ecosystems and food systems—far beyond the already inflated levels seen in recent years. Antarctic sea ice reached its lowest extent on record—at one million square kilometers below the previous record year of 2022, an area equivalent to the size of France and Germany combined. Observed concentrations of the three main greenhouse gases—carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide—reached record levels in 2022 and continued to increase in 2023, preliminary data shows. (UN News)

Some of this, especially the elevated ocean temperatures, was due to the 2023 El Niño climate phenomenon. But University of St. Thomas researcher John Abraham told PBS NewsHour: "This is off the charts. And it's more than we would have normally expected, even with an El Niño." He added wryly: "The scientific term is bonkers year."

The proliferation of extreme weather events in recent years has also been described as "global weirding."

Scientists punt on Anthropocene Epoch designation

A top panel of geologists has decided not to grant the "human age" its own distinct place in Earth's geological timeline after disagreeing over when exactly the so-called Anthropocene Epoch might have begun.

After 15 years of deliberation, a team of scientists made the case that humankind has so fundamentally altered the natural world that we are in a new phase of Earth's existence. 

But the proposal was rejected in a contentious vote that has been upheld by the International Union of Geological Sciences, the field's governing body said in a statement March 22. The decision "to reject the proposal for an Anthropocene Epoch as a formal unit of the Geologic Time Scale is approved," it said.

There is no avenue for appeal, though some involved in the voting committee have raised allegations over the conduct of the ballot and a perceived lack of due process. (PhysOrg)

Dire climate anomalies from Mexico to Mongolia

At least four people died in wildfires that are burning in 15 drought-stricken states across Mexico, from Michoacán to Chiapas. On March 28, 130 fires were still active, fuelled by strong winds. In some areas, the lack of firefighters forced locals to fight the fire themselves, while in other areas, community members blocked a highway through México state demanding more help from the government.

At least nine people have been killed in snowstorms in Mongolia as the country endures its harshest winter in half a century. Snowfall covered 90% of the country at its peak in January, and the harsh winter has killed 5.2 million animals–about 8% of the country's livestock—putting at risk the livelihoods of a third of the population, who are nomadic herders. (TNH)

Polar vortex 'spinning backwards' after major reversal event

Earlier this month, a sudden atmospheric warming event caused the Arctic's polar vortex to reverse its trajectory. The swirling ring of cold air is now spinning in the wrong direction, which has triggered a record-breaking "ozone spike" and could impact global weather patterns. (LiveScience)