Science and TechClimate Change


NASA blames fossil fuels, El Nino for 2023 being hottest on record

NASA said carbon emissions are causing temperatures to rise and driving more intense heavy waves and coastal flooding.
People visit a thermometer Sunday, July 11, 2021, in Death Valley National Park.
Posted at 2:14 PM, Jan 12, 2024

NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration confirmed on Friday that 2023 marked the warmest year on record for the globe as the average temperature across the world was about 2.1 degrees Fahrenheit above NASA's baseline period of 1951-1990. 

NASA's new data largely matched figures released by European Union officials earlier in the week that also showed Earth had the warmest year on record. 

In releasing the data, NASA tried to paint a clear picture of a world in peril due to rising temperatures. Scientists say that rising temperatures are driving more intense heavy waves and coastal flooding. 

NASA says that human carbon emissions drive the long-term trend of rising temperatures. El Niño, aerosols, pollution and volcanic eruptions can affect temperatures on a year-to-year basis. 

What is the polar vortex, and how does it contribute to cold snaps?
A graphical representation of the polar vortex

What is the polar vortex, and how does it contribute to cold snaps?

The polar vortex is a regular feature of the arctic atmosphere. How much does it have to do with bitter cold spells elsewhere?


With a shift to an El Niño pattern in 2023, temperatures became even warmer than usual in the second half of the year. Scientists say that El Niño continues to impact global weather as it's not expected to peak until February, March or April. 

“NASA and NOAA’s global temperature report confirms what billions of people around the world experienced last year; we are facing a climate crisis,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “From extreme heat, to wildfires, to rising sea levels, we can see our Earth is changing."

El Niño is part of a cycle in which waters in the equatorial Pacific Ocean become warmer. But in 2023 El Niño also resulted in abnormally warm sea-surface temperatures across the globe, especially in the North Atlantic. 

Meanwhile, Antarctica's ice caps shrank to record low levels. The polar ice caps in the Arctic were near record lows. 

Scientists placed blame on the rise in carbon dioxide and methane gases in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide levels reached 419 parts per million in 2023, 2.4 ppm higher than in 2022. There were 1,902 parts per billion of methane gas in 2023, an 11 ppb increase over 2022. 

“The exceptional warming that we’re experiencing is not something we’ve seen before in human history,” said Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. “It’s driven primarily by our fossil fuel emissions, and we’re seeing the impacts in heat waves, intense rainfall, and coastal flooding.”