Earth’s average temperature was the highest ever recorded on Monday. Then Tuesday broke the record. Then Wednesday tied Tuesday.
If that’s not enough, last month was the hottest June on record, as well.
The record temperatures are likely to continue into the summer, especially in July, which is typically the hottest month of the year. But what’s causing the extreme heat?
“This is driven by the combination of El Niño on top of global warming, and we may well see a few even warmer days over the next 6 weeks,” tweeted Robert Rohde, lead scientist at Berkeley Earth.
The daily records, which are from the University of Maine’s Climate Reanalyzer, are not an official government record. Instead, “this is showing us an indication of where we are right now,” National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chief scientist Sarah Kapnick told the Associated Press.
The monthly records are from the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service and show that last month exceeded June 2019’s record temperature “by a substantial margin.”
“Parts of Canada, the United States, Mexico, Asia and eastern Australia were significantly warmer than normal,” the service wrote in a post.
The development is not surprising given that June had the hottest start on record and surpassed pre-industrial levels by more than the 1.5 degrees Celsius goal set in the Paris climate agreement.
“Monitoring our climate is more important than ever to determine how often and for how long rises in global temperatures are exceeding 1.5 [degrees Celsius],” Samantha Burgess, deputy director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service, said in a statement. “Every single fraction of a degree matters to avoid even more severe consequences of the climate crisis.”
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The World Meteorological Organization recently stated that it’s almost certain that one of the next five years will be the hottest on record, surpassing 2016.
One of the main reasons the upcoming years are expected to be so hot is El Niño, a natural climate phenomenon.
“The onset of El Niño will greatly increase the likelihood of breaking temperature records and triggering more extreme heat in many parts of the world and in the ocean,” said Petteri Taalas, secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization.
During a period of El Niño, warmer water tends to stay at the surface of the Pacific Ocean, which releases more heat into the atmosphere. Global temperatures typically increase during El Niño and fall during its counterpart, La Niña.
The hottest year on record – 2016 – was during an El Niño episode. Even more concerning is that El Niño is expected to strengthen during the winter, likely delivering another record-breaking year in 2024.
“We are in uncharted territory and we can expect more records to fall as El Niño develops further and these impacts will extend into 2024,” said Chris Hewitt, the director of climate services at the World Meteorological Organization. “This is worrying news for the planet.”
The other main reason for record-breaking temperatures is climate change.
It’s likely that the average global temperatures for one of the next five years will surpass the 1.5 degree Celsius threshold set in the Paris climate agreement, according to the World Meteorological Organization.
“This report does not mean that we will permanently exceed the 1.5 [degrees Celsius] level specified in the Paris Agreement which refers to long-term warming over many years,” Taalas said. “However, WMO is sounding the alarm that we will breach the 1.5 [degrees Celsius] level on a temporary basis with increasing frequency.”
It’s a sign that climate change is sending humans into uncharted territory.
Climate change is largely driven by the burning of fossil fuels, which leads to increased ocean heating and acidification, sea ice and glacier melt, sea level rise and extreme weather.
There’s also a lesser – though notable – trend that could be contributing that has to do with international rules targeting ship fuels.
The rules, which were adopted in 2020, imposed strict limits on the sulfur content of marine fuels. It contributed to a 10% decrease in the global emissions of sulfur dioxide. But there could have been unintended consequences.
Sulfur dioxide, while an air pollutant, can also reflect sunlight.
“In other words, maritime sulfur pollution was likely having a bit of a cooling effect,” Rohde of Berkeley Earth tweeted. “Removing that might trigger locally abrupt warming.”
But the development is likely not worth more than a couple years of emissions, and El Niño and climate change are much larger factors for the record-breaking temperatures.