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Earth just endured the hottest three-months ever recorded

According to a report from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the Earth has just endured its hottest three-month period on record. The data, sourced from the European Union-funded Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) and implemented by ECMWF, paints a concerning picture of the planet’s changing climate. 

The data reveals that global sea surface temperatures have touched unprecedented highs for three consecutive months. Additionally, the Antarctic sea ice extent sits at a record low for this period of the year.

Multiple red flags 

The month of August alone has raised multiple red flags. “It was the hottest August on record – by a large margin – and the second hottest ever month after July 2023,” the Copernicus Climate Change Service ERA 5 dataset confirmed. 

Delving deeper into the figures, August’s average temperatures were roughly 1.5°C warmer than the preindustrial average measured between 1850 and 1900, as per the C3S monthly climate bulletin.

Second warmest year

To put this year into context, the period from January to August ranks as the second warmest on record, only surpassed by 2016. It’s worth noting that 2016 witnessed a potent warming El Niño event, which contributed significantly to its high temperatures.

“Eight months into 2023, so far we are experiencing the second warmest year to date, only fractionally cooler than 2016, and August was estimated to be around 1.5°C warmer than pre-industrial levels,” said Carlo Buontempo, director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service.

“What we are observing, not only new extremes but the persistence of these record-breaking conditions, and the impacts these have on both people and planet, are a clear consequence of the warming of the climate system.”

Sea surface temperatures 

Perhaps the most alarming revelation was regarding global sea surface temperatures. “August as a whole saw the highest global monthly average sea surface temperatures on record across all months, at 20.98°C,” the WMO report stated. 

Astonishingly, temperatures in August exceeded the previous record, set in March 2016, on each day of the month.

Climate breakdown

“Our planet has just endured a season of simmering – the hottest summer on record. Climate breakdown has begun,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

“Scientists have long warned what our fossil fuel addiction will unleash. Surging temperatures demand a surge in action. Leaders must turn up the heat now for climate solutions. We can still avoid the worst of climate chaos – and we don’t have a moment to lose.”

Antarctic sea ice extent

In the icy realms of our planet, there’s also cause for concern. The Antarctic sea ice extent is operating at a record low for this period, showing a monthly value 12% below average. 

This discrepancy marks the most significant negative anomaly for August since satellite observations commenced in the late 1970s. Meanwhile, the Arctic’s sea ice extent lags by 10% below average, although it is still considerably above the record minimum observed in August 2012.

Summer of extremes

“The northern hemisphere just had a summer of extremes – with repeated heatwaves fuelling devastating wildfires, harming health, disrupting daily lives and wreaking a lasting toll on the environment,” noted WMO Secretary-General Professor Petteri Taalas

“In the southern hemisphere Antarctic sea ice extent was literally off the charts, and the global sea surface temperature was once again at a new record.”

“It is worth noting that this is happening BEFORE we see the full warming impact of the El Niño event, which typically plays out in the second year after it develop.” 

More heat records to come

For its comprehensive climate monitoring activities and its State of the Climate reports, the WMO amasses data not just from C3S, but five other international datasets.

Further compounding climate worries, a joint report released in May by the WMO and the UK’s Met Office warned of the immediate future. According to their findings, there’s a 98% likelihood that one of the upcoming five years will be the warmest ever recorded. 

Furthermore, there’s a 66% chance that temperatures will temporarily surge past 1.5°C above the 1850-1900 average within the next half-decade. 

However, the report clarified, “This does not mean that we will permanently exceed the 1.5°C level specified in the Paris Agreement which refers to long-term warming over many years.”

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