A year after 2020 recorded the warmest temperatures around the globe, the world is now witnessing Europe’s coldest spring in years. However, since the fight against global warming is far from over, the decrease in temperature is alluding to some misinformation.
Though the spring of 2021 recorded the coldest temperature in Europe in eight years, northern Africa, the Middle East, western Greenland, northern and western Russia all recorded temperatures well above average, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).
“Europe had its coldest spring since 2013; the average March-May temperature was 0.45 degrees Celsius (0.81 degrees Fahrenheit) below the 1991-2020 average,” said Clare Nullis, the spokesperson for the WMO, at a U.N. press briefing on World Oceans Day.
The WMO also noted that the southern and central U.S., parts of northern Canada, south-central Africa, India, eastern Russia, and eastern Antarctica all reported temperatures below average in May.
However, Nullis stressed the fact that climate change is still a crucial issue. “Just because this year has got off to a relatively cool start by recent standards does not mean that we’ve hit the pause button on climate change,” she stated. The WMO also estimated a 90% chance that one of the next five years will hold the record of the highest temperatures ever.
Long-term temperature trajectory
“The cold April weather in Europe came on the heels of a warm spell in late March that brought record high temperatures in parts of Europe,” explained climate reanalysis scientist Julien Nicolas. “the fact that the climate is warming does not mean that Europe cannot experience cold April months, it means that such months are becoming less and less likely.”
Instead of focusing on one month, it is vital to study the long-term trajectory of the temperature. Throughout the decades, scientists have studied the global rise and drop of temperatures in many regions, thus deducing the existence of climate change. Therefore, a certain drop in temperatures, by no means, diminishes the threat of climate change.
“Our climate system is very complex, with some internal variability superimposed on this long-term warming trend,” Nicolas says. “Weather and climate patterns can lead to colder-than-average months or years in certain regions while other regions experienced many warmer-than-average conditions. In that sense, a colder-than-average April in Europe is perfectly compatible with global climate warming.”
The key role of Carbon Dioxide
Despite many efforts to decrease global emissions, CO2 emissions are still playing a major role in accelerating climate change incidents. Furthermore, some sites are even increasing their emissions instead of decreasing them. For example, the Mauna Loa. one of five volcanoes that form the Island of Hawaii, recorded a surge in emissions.
“The monthly average CO2 concentration at Mauna Loa observatory reached a new record 419.13 parts per million (ppm) in May, up from 417.31 ppm in May 2020,” the WMO spokesperson said while citing the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
A rise in ocean heatwaves
While Europe experienced a cold spring, ocean heatwaves were destroying various marine ecosystems. Not only does the ocean absorb more than 23% of CO2 emissions, but it also absorbs more than 90% of the excess heat from human activities. However, unlike the world above the surface, it takes a lot of time to achieve a substantial change in ocean temperatures. According to Nicolas, this is mainly due to the enormous and vast deep layers of the ocean storing the heat.
Thus, the ocean is now paying the almost irreversible price of climate change. With both the ocean acidification and marine heatwaves, the already weakened coral reefs are fighting a losing battle. Not only are coral reefs vital to marine ecosystems, but they are also the shield that protects coastlines.
A Change in seasons
Another alarming phenomenon is the effect climate change has on seasons. In a way, the rise and drop in temperatures are shifting the start and the end of seasons all around the globe.
“As a result, the vegetation growing season is also starting earlier. This makes crops and fruit trees (and European ecosystems in general) more vulnerable to the type of late-spring frosts that occurred in parts of Europe in April 2021,” added Nicolas.