Last year may have been the hottest on record, but a new study warns that the worst is yet to come.
Terrifying maps have revealed the areas most likely to suffer record heat this year thanks to El Niño, an unusual warming of sea surface temperatures that occurs once every few years.
The Bay of Bengal, the Philippines and the Caribbean Sea are likely to be hit by record heat waves before June this year, according to experts at the Chinese Academy of Meteorological Sciences.
But that doesn’t mean people in other areas won’t be affected.
The study also warns that there is a 90 percent chance of record global average surface temperatures during the same period.
Terrifying maps have revealed the areas most likely to suffer record heat this year thanks to El Niño. On this map, the darker red regions show greater variation above the average temperature.
The El Niño-Southern Oscillation, as it is technically called, is one of the main drivers of climate differences around the world.
Focused primarily on the tropical Pacific, warmer waters raise the global average annual surface temperature, changing climate around the world.
And as the world experiences even small increases in average temperature, some regions experience significant increases during local extreme heat events.
This effect is so pronounced that the researchers write in the paper, published in Scientific Reportswhich is “the strongest annual determinant of climate variation on the planet.”
To find out how El Niño affects local temperature spikes, researchers created a model that could estimate how hot areas would become during an El Niño year.
This model revealed the difference between average regional temperatures between July 2023 and June 2024 and the 1951-1980 baseline.
This map shows the variation from the average in a strong El Niño scenario. In this case, areas of Alaska and the Amazon will also experience record temperature spikes this year (record areas are shown with blue dots)
Researchers found that in the moderate scenario, the Bay of Bengal, the Philippines and the Caribbean Sea will experience record temperatures more than 1.8°F (1°C) above average.
However, in a strong El Niño scenario, researchers predict the effects will be even more pronounced.
If this holds, then areas of Alaska, the Amazon and the South China Sea will also reach record temperatures.
In Alaska, these peaks will be up to 4.32°F (2.4°C) above the 1951-1980 average.
If Alaska is hit by an extreme temperature event, researchers warn there is a risk that glaciers like the Mendenhall Glacier (pictured) will melt at a much faster rate.
Globally, researchers found that even in the moderate scenario there was a 90 percent chance that the global mean surface temperature (GSMT) would break the all-time record this year.
Under a moderate El Niño, the GSMT will be between 1.8 and 1.98 °F (1.03-1.10 °C) above average, while a strong event will cause temperatures to rise between 1.9 and 2.16°F (1.06-1.20°C) above that average. .
The researchers write: “Strong El Niño events may cause GMST to rise rapidly, potentially exceeding the Paris Agreement’s preferred ambitious 1.5°C target for a short period.”
Worryingly, these models also suggest that the world may be at greater risk of extreme weather events.
In Alaska, researchers say there is a risk of glaciers or permafrost melting, which could lead to sea level rise or runaway warming.
In the Amazon, the model predicts record temperatures that could trigger a drought-induced forest fire like those that hit Brazil last year (pictured).
Meanwhile, in the Amazon, extreme heat events create an increased risk of drought-driven wildfires similar to those that destroyed vast areas of rainforest in 2019.
The researchers write: “This looming heat increases the risk of year-round marine heat waves and increases the threat of wildfires and other negative consequences in Alaska and the Amazon Basin.”
Warmer seas will also mean a greater risk of tropical cyclones which can be extremely destructive in low-lying coastal areas.
Previous studies have suggested that rising temperatures due to climate change could trigger a wave of “mega-hurricanes” with wind speeds of up to 300 km/h.
Unfortunately, the model also suggests that these coastal areas are the most likely to experience extreme heat events next year.