Researchers have been speculating about it for the past couple of weeks, but it has now been confirmed that globally July was the hottest month ever recorded on Earth. Temperatures around the globe were said to be marginally higher than the were in July of 2016, which was when the previous record was set.
The dubious mark was confirmed by scientists at the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Programme, which uses satellites to monitor weather –– including temperatures –– on a global scale. The data collected for July shows that the Earth was 0.56 °C (a little more than 1ºF) warmer than average. That may not seem like much, but when taken a a snapshot of the entire planet, it is actually a surprisingly large number.
What has climatologists more concerned is that this year’s record was set without a strong El Niño event in the Pacific Ocean. In 2016, the warmest month on record came about due to such an event, which was the strongest in history. During an El Niño year the waters in the Pacific are warmed up significantly, which in turn has an impact on the jet stream and the atmosphere as a whole, creating hotter temperatures as a result. Until the start of July, the El Niño was relatively week, although it has strengthened some since then. That means these warmer temperatures have been brought on by other factors.
Environmental scientists are often quick to point out that we shouldn’t equate weather with climate, and they are right. That said, if you lived in the U.S. or Europe in July of this year you no doubt experienced one of the most oppressive heat waves in recent memory. Temperatures across Europe in particular were incredibly warm, even for the middle of summer. Meanwhile, Greenland has been experiencing record ice melt-offs as well, while fighting wildfires at the same time.
It is important to point out that the Copernicus Climate Change Programme has been collecting data since 1981, which is a long time for humans, but just a blip geologically speaking. While it is true that there have been periods in the Earth’s distant past where temperatures no doubt exceeding our current high marks, what we’re seeing now appears to be the warmest since humans rose to prominence, with sharp spikes upward starting to occur following the Industrial Revolution. In other words, yes the Earth has been hotter at times, but not for hundreds of thousands of years at best.
Thankfully, July tends to almost always be the hottest month of the year on a global scale, so temporary relief should soon be sight. What is in store for us in the long run remains to be seen however, but the current trends don’t bode well.