Amid a backdrop of extreme weather events and devastating wildfires, federal and international officials this week issued dire warnings about record-setting temperatures and the worsening effects of climate change.
Last month was the planet’s warmest August on record, and the Northern Hemisphere experienced its hottest meteorological summer, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Thursday.
“Global marine heat waves and a growing El Niño are driving additional warming this year, but as long as emissions continue driving a steady march of background warming, we expect further records to be broken in the years to come,” read a statement from NOAA chief scientist Sarah Kapnick.
The warning comes on the heels of a study published this week in the journal Science Advances, which found that the planet has transgressed 6 out of 9 boundaries for processes deemed critical for maintaining the stability and resilience of the Earth system as a whole.
The boundaries include biosphere integrity, freshwater changes and climate change. Two boundaries — air pollution and ocean acidification — are close to being breached, while only one, atmospheric ozone, has slightly recovered.
“Earth is now well outside of the safe operating space for humanity,” the study said.
According to NOAA researchers, global surface temperatures last month were 2.25 degrees above the 20th century average of 60.1 degrees, surpassing the previous record, from August 2016, by more than half a degree.
“That to me is a really huge jump from one record to the next,” said Ellen Bartow-Gillies, a physical scientist with NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. She noted that graphs of temperature records dating to the 1850s show a steady climb — accelerating during the industrial era — but that August 2023 was “on a point of its own, essentially.”
In addition to being the warmest August in NOAA’s 174 years of records, the month saw the third-highest temperature anomaly of any month on record, meaning the third-highest from its average.
The hot month continued a trend that began weeks earlier, with June and July both setting monthly temperature records.
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