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July was Earth's hottest month in 120,000 years

On Tuesday, the Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) confirmed July as the hottest month on record by a significant margin. July’s global average temperature was 16.95 degrees Celsius (62.51 degrees Fahrenheit) – a third of a degree Celsius higher than the previous record set in 2019. Since usually global temperature records are broken only by hundredths or a tenth of a degree, this margin is highly unusual.

According to C3S’s calculations, this July was 0.7 degrees Celsius (1.3 Fahrenheit) hotter than the average July from 1991 to 2020, with the world’s oceans exceeding by half a degree Celsius (0.9 Fahrenheit) the average temperatures from the previous three decades. 

Record ocean temperatures

Even more worrisome, the North Atlantic was a staggering 1.05 degrees Celsius (1.9 Fahrenheit) hotter than average, while Antarctica set record lows for sea ice extent (15 percent below average).

“We just witnessed global air temperatures and global ocean surface temperatures set new all-time records in July. These records have dire consequences for both people and the planet exposed to ever more frequent and intense extreme events,” said Samantha Burgess, the deputy director of C3S. 

“2023 is currently the third warmest year to date at 0.43 degrees Celsius above the recent average, with the average global temperature in July at 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. Even if this is only temporary, it shows the urgency for ambitious efforts to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, which are the main driver behind these records.” 

Unprecedented warming

According to the experts, the global average temperature in July already reached 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times, thus being dangerously close of exceeding the limit set in 2015 by the Paris Agreement. 

This unprecedented warming led to deadly heatwaves in Southwestern United States, Mexico, Europe, and Asia, as well as many other extreme weather events, including massive storms and wildfires.

Weather disasters

As scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported, the U.S. has already experienced a record 15 different weather disasters this year (the most mega-disasters in seven months since the agency started tracking such events in 1980), causing over $1 billion in damage. 

“These records have dire consequences for both people and the planet exposed to ever more frequent and intense extreme events,” Burgess warned. 

A stunning record 

According to NOAA, which kept records of global temperatures since 1850, July’s temperature was higher than that of any month since mid-19th century. However, the experts argue that it’s actually the hottest month in a far longer time period. 

“It’s a stunning record and makes it quite clearly the warmest month on Earth in 10,000 years,” said Stefan Rahmstorf, a climate scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, who cited studies that used tree rings and other proxies to provide evidence that we are now experiencing the warmest period since the beginning of the Holocene Era, over 10,000 years ago. 

And considering the fact that before the Holocene there was an ice age, it is safe to assume that July was the warmest month in 120,000 years.

However, as Friederike Otto, a climate scientist at Imperial College of London, argued, “we should not care about July because it’s a record, but because it won’t be a record for long. It’s an indicator of how much we have changed the climate. We are living in a very different world, one that our societies are not adapted to live in very well.”

Human impact on climate

Humans have changed the climate in several ways, primarily through activities that release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere:

Burning fossil fuels

Burning coal, oil, and natural gas for energy releases carbon dioxide (CO2), one of the main greenhouse gases. These gases trap heat in the atmosphere, leading to a warming effect known as global warming.


Cutting down forests reduces the Earth’s ability to absorb CO2. Trees act as “carbon sinks,” absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere. Without enough trees, more CO2 remains in the atmosphere, exacerbating the greenhouse effect.

Industrial processes

Various manufacturing processes release greenhouse gases like methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O). These gases are even more potent than CO2 in terms of their greenhouse effect.


Certain agricultural practices, such as livestock farming, release significant amounts of methane. Additionally, the use of synthetic fertilizers releases nitrous oxide.

Waste management

Decomposing organic waste in landfills produces methane. Inadequate waste management practices can lead to higher emissions.

Urbanization and land use change 

Urban expansion and changes in land use often result in more energy consumption for heating, cooling, and transportation, all of which can contribute to higher greenhouse gas emissions.


Some man-made chemicals used in refrigeration and air conditioning are potent greenhouse gases. The transition to more environmentally friendly alternatives is ongoing but slow in some areas.

Altered water cycles

Human activities like damming and irrigation can change natural water cycles, affecting local climates.


By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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