July 2023, the hottest month in the last 143 years

July 2023 has been the hottest month since we began recording average temperatures in 1880. For the 5th consecutive time, Earth sets a record
The map depicts global temperature anomalies for July 2023 according to the GISTEMP analysis by scientists from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. The anomalies of July 2023 are compared to the average July temperature from 1951 to 1980. Credit: NASA

In the wake of the tragic Hawaii fires, which resulted in the deaths of over 90 people, NASA experts gathered on Monday, August 14th, to discuss the state of our planet’s climate emergency. Speakers confirmed that July 2023 was the hottest month ever recorded since the late 1800s. Even more concerning, the five hottest Julys on record have all occurred within the past five years. NASA also predicts that the next year will be even hotter.

Anthropogenic Activity

In a statement released immediately after the conference (ref.), it was stated that this July was 0.24 degrees Celsius warmer than any other July recorded by NASA since 1880. At the same time, it was the warmest July temperature compared to the period between 1951 and 1980. “July 2023 has been the hottest month ever” said Sarah Kapnick, Chief Scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, during the conference.

“The long-term trends we’ve seen since the 19th century, particularly since the ’70s, are all due to anthropogenic effects” stated Gavin Schmidt, Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. In this case, the term “anthropogenic” simply refers to human activities. Most damaging to the planet are burning coal for energy, deforestation for infrastructure development, and promoting atmospheric pollution.

Schmidt explained that NASA’s data clearly shows that other climate change factors like El Niño or volcanic activity have “very, very small” impacts on global warming compared to the anthropogenic component. For example, El Niño can lead to a temporary temperature increase of about 0.1 degrees Celsius (ref.). However, the observed global warming so far far exceeds these amounts (ref.). “Without the human contribution to climate change drivers, we wouldn’t see anything like this” Schmidt said.

Temperature Rise and Increased Climate Damage

The team’s long-term observations stem from statistical models full of information about Earth‘s temperature evolution. Various processes occurring worldwide, both natural and non-natural, contribute to this evolution. “The temperatures we’re experiencing now can only be obtained by including greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere and the land use changes we’ve created on Earth” Kapnick said.

It’s worth being concerned about these rising temperatures because they create the perfect conditions for severe natural disasters such as droughts, cyclones, and fires, including the recent crisis in Hawaii.

“Look around and see what has happened” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson during the conference. “We have record floods in Vermont. We have record temperatures in Phoenix and Miami. Much of the country has been covered in wildfire smoke”. Climate change has forced storms to move northward, leading to decreased rainfall and drought conditions. “In general, climate change is a kind of multiplier of fire threats” Schmidt emphasized.

Impact of Climate Change on Oceans

Monday’s discussion also addressed the effects of climate change on marine health. “The oceans are experiencing about 90% of global warming” said Carlos Del Castillo, Head of NASA’s Ocean Ecology Laboratory, during the conference. “As the oceans warm, water expands. When combined with ice melting on land, this contributes to sea level rise”.

The consequences of this sea level rise include coastal flooding and even coastal erosion. Castillo pointed to the example of Miami Beach in Florida. “They’ve experienced more frequent coastal flooding—five times more than what they experienced 50 years ago”.

“Unfortunately, coral reefs don’t move and have to stay put and bear the weight of global warming” he said. “25% of marine species have something to do with corals. So, they contribute to the livelihood of millions of people and protect the coast from tides and storms”.

NASA’s Tools

Help to prevent another the hottest month July like 2023, NASA’s PACE (Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, Ocean Ecosystem) mission is imminent. It’s one of the many climate solutions the agency is working on. In addition to autonomous firefighting planes and open-source Earth data, the PACE satellite is set to launch in 2024. Its mission is to detect oceanic changes, such as shifts in color.

“A year like this gives us an idea of how increasing temperatures and more intense rainfall can impact our society and stress critical infrastructure in the next decade” Kapnick stated. “These years will be even colder compared to 2050 if we continue to warm our planet”.

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