Heatwave Havoc: June 2023 Takes The Title For Hottest Month On Record

Global temperature maps are showing dark red hues resulting from rising temperatures as the Earth's oceans absorbed an unprecedented volume of heat from the atmosphere in the previous year, according to  a report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 

Additionally, June 2023 had an average temperature of 61.7° Fahrenheit, making it the hottest June recorded since record-keeping began in 1979. But Earth seems on track to break this record this month, as the average atmospheric temperature on July 4 and July 5 broke the previous record, reaching 62.9° Fahrenheit. 

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The average ocean temperature, measured between latitude 60 degrees north and 60 degrees south, reached 69.4° Fahrenheit. Scientists studying the interplay between the ocean and the atmosphere expressed concerns about the long-term impact of rising ocean temperatures, including changes in migratory patterns of marine life, increased ocean acidity and the degradation of coral reefs, mangroves and wetlands, which serve as protective barriers against storms and rising sea levels.

"This is an extremely rare event that we're living through right now, in terms of global temperatures in the ocean," said Benjamin Kirtman, director of the Cooperative Institute of Marine and Atmospheric Studies at the University of Miami. "There are a number of different factors that may be contributing to that, but we don't know for sure exactly what's going on."

Jolting Copernicus Report

Experts at The Copernicus Climate Change Service, which operates under the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, attribute these record-high temperatures to the accumulation of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases emitted by human activities, coupled with the influence of a powerful El Niño weather pattern in the Pacific Ocean. These factors and global warming have led to unprecedented high temperatures worldwide.

"The month was the warmest June globally at just over 0.5°C above the 1991 to 2020 average, exceeding June 2019 — the previous record — by a substantial margin," the Copernicus report stated. "Exceptionally warm sea surface temperature anomalies were recorded in the North Atlantic. Extreme marine heatwaves were observed around Ireland, the U.K. and in the Baltic Sea.”

The effects of this heatwave are widespread, ranging from record temperatures in Northern Europe to a significant decrease in sea ice cover in the waters surrounding Antarctica. In June, the global atmospheric temperature surpassed the 1991-2020 average by 0.95 degrees Fahrenheit, surpassing the previous June record set in 2019. 

Europe experienced an even higher temperature anomaly, with temperatures reaching 1.3° Fahrenheit higher than average. The report highlighted that record temperatures were observed in several regions, including northwest Europe, parts of Canada, the United States, Mexico, Asia and eastern Australia. Some areas, such as Western Australia, western parts of the United States and western Russia, experienced cooler-than-normal temperatures. In the United Kingdom, June officially became the hottest June since 1884, with experts attributing the worsened conditions to a marine heatwave surrounding the British Isles.

"Provisional findings from the Met [Meteorlogical] Office suggest this marine heat wave in turn amplified land temperatures even further to the record levels seen during the month," said Ségolène Berthou, scientific manager of Met Office, the U.K.'s leading weather agency.

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The Aftermath

The consequences of this extreme heat have been severe, with hundreds of people falling ill and over a dozen fatalities resulting from heat-related causes reported in Texas. Additionally, floods, hail and tornadoes have compounded the suffering, leading to power outages for many customers.

While climate change and the Pacific El Niño play significant roles in these record-breaking temperatures, other factors also contribute, although they have not been definitively identified by scientists. For instance, the reduced frequency of dust particles blown from the Sahara across the North Atlantic Ocean, which typically block sunlight and cool the region, may be a contributing factor this year. 

"This is what we expect to happen with global warming progressing and having an El Niño on top of that," said Robert Rohde, lead scientist at independent climate data organization Berkeley Earth. "Now we're hitting the highest temperatures we've ever seen."

Recent regulations have limited the amount of sulfur in ship fuels, decreasing atmospheric sulfur pollution and allowing more sunlight to reach the ocean’s surface, resulting in localized warming effects.

Experts predict that sea and atmospheric temperatures will remain high, and they anticipate that July will likely set new record-high temperatures.

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