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Earth’s Hottest Year Ever: 12 Months of Extreme Heat

The planet entered uncharted territory by having the most phenomenally disturbing 12 months in a row of record-breaking temperatures, European scientists announced Wednesday. This streak of weather is the second-longest on record, according to data from the Copernicus Climate Change Service.

“It is shocking but not surprising that we have reached this 12-month streak,” said Carlo Buontempo, director at the Copernicus Climate Change Service. “While this sequence of record-breaking months will eventually be interrupted, the overall signature of climate change remains, and there is no sign of a change in such a trend.”

This new milestone compounds concerns raised in January when 2023 was declared the hottest year ever recorded. Now, with temperatures higher than any respective month in modern history, every single month for an entire year has been hot.

Although the Earth has withstood more than 550 successive months of above-average temperatures, this unbroken chain of all-time monthly heat records beginning with June 2023 is very unusual and deeply worrisome to climate scientists.

Still, researchers can point to several factors that might be convening to produce the record warmth, although they readily acknowledge that they don’t know exactly how much each factor is contributing.

A powerful El Niño event in 2023, a periodic warming of Pacific waters, provided a first push to global temperatures. But record heat began well before El Niño’s peak was felt.

Some say it’s the cleaner shipping fuels implemented in 2020 that made maritime clouds thinner, thus enabling more absorption of heat. Others argue that it may have been due to the 2022 Hunga Tonga volcanic eruption. However, many experts dispute the significance of such proposed explanations.

“We have a lot of not very satisfying explanations for last year,” said Zeke Hausfather of Berkeley Earth. “Even added together, they don’t really add up to the margins we were setting records by.”

Scientists, however, first of all, pointed out that records underscore a relentless trajectory of human-driven climate change against natural fluctuations.

“The primary reason for this remarkable stretch is human-caused climate change,” said NOAA’s Zachary Labe. “This remains an active area of research, and we’ll have more answers, but it looks like various factors combined to exacerbate the long-term warming trend.”

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