After the warmest June ever recorded on the planet, July has also started in record-setting mode. According to data released by various organizations that study climate, over the past week, the mark for the average daily temperature on Earth has already been broken twice.
On Monday, the planetary average hit 62.9 degrees Fahrenheit. On Tuesday, it exceeded 63, explains Carlo Buontempo, director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service, which is managed by the European Union. It’s not necessary to go back far in time to find the previous mark: 62.2 degrees Fahrenheit, on August 14, 2016.
The two latest records – so close in time – constitute further proof of the global warming that human beings have unleashed with greenhouse gas emissions. This has led to a climate crisis that manifests itself with increasingly severe temperatures and frequent extreme weather events.
Buontempo points out that the underlying climate change has also been joined by another phenomenon in recent weeks: an extreme warming of the North Atlantic, which has surprised specialists. “We’ve entered unknown territory due to exceptionally warm conditions in the North Atlantic Ocean,” reads an article published this past Thursday by Copernicus.
More and more experts are using the expression “uncharted territory” to talk about what’s happening on the planet amidst this climate crisis. But what does that mean? “None of us – none of the people who are alive – have had to live in the kind of climate that we have now,” Buontempo replies. “Many times, climate change is talked about as something that will come in a few years, in a few decades… but no, it’s already happening now. The climate is totally different from what our parents or our grandparents experienced, or from the one that we ourselves have experienced up until now.”
Already in May of 2023, sea surface temperatures across the planet were higher than in any previous May on record. This phenomenon continued in June, with even greater anomalies, when the temperature in the North Atlantic was 1.6 degrees above the reference period (1991-2020). “The anomalous heat is particularly surprising in the northeast of the Atlantic Ocean, which is [3.14 degrees Fahrenheit] above average,” Copernicus notes.
This extreme heat in the North Atlantic was one of the hallmarks of June. And, while the causes are still being studied, Copernicus points to several factors, such as changes in the circulation of air in the atmosphere and the clear influence of climate change, due to the increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases.
Buontempo maintains that, if the temperatures in that part of the Atlantic hadn’t skyrocketed in this way, it’s very possible that “the temperature peak that’s being seen now” wouldn’t have occurred. However, this expert insists that a “combination of factors” are behind this, such as the end of the La Niña phenomenon and the start of favorable conditions for El Niño to occur, which consists of an increase in the temperature of tropical areas of the Pacific Ocean. These natural phenomena also tend to have global consequences.
Over the last three years, the climate has largely been conditioned by La Niña, which has a cooling effect on the entire planet that has somewhat mitigated climate change. But the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) reported this week that the favorable conditions for El Niño to develop have already begun, although there’s still some uncertainty when it comes to officially declaring the start of this phenomenon, which could occur throughout July. What’s expected with El Niño is that temperatures will soar.
2016 was the warmest year on record, since reliable records began to be kept in the 19th century. “There is a 98% chance that, in at least one of the next five years, the temperature record reached in 2016 – when there was an exceptionally intense El Niño episode – will be exceeded,” the WMO has already pointed out.
Highest temperatures in 70 years
Regarding the two daily temperature records that were hit this past week, Buontempo points out that the method they use allows us to safely go back over the last 70 years to determine that there are no precedents for such warm days. But he adds that it’s “very likely” that these are the days with the highest average temperature over the last 150 years… although there’s a little more uncertainty with the data in this case.
This uncharted territory that the experts say the planet is heading towards will cause, from time to time, headlines in the media that refer to heat records. Like, for example, the fact that last month was the warmest June on record since at least the start of the industrial age, in the 19th century. “After three years of La Niña – in which global temperatures tend to be lower – and now that we’re entering El Niño territory, seeing temperatures spike isn’t entirely unexpected. It’s something within the realm of imagination,” Buontempo cautions.
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