LONDON – Sweltering heat is blanketing much of the planet, and the past seven days have been the hottest week on record, the latest grim milestone in a series of climate-change-driven extremes.
Earth´s average temperature on Wednesday remained at an unofficial record high set the day before. And for the seven-day period ending Wednesday, the daily average temperature was .08 degrees Fahrenheit (.04 degrees Celsius) higher than any week in 44 years of record-keeping, according to data from the University of Maine´s Climate Reanalyzer, a tool that uses satellite data and computer simulations to measure the world´s condition.
The average global temperature for Tuesday and Wednesday was 62.9 degrees Fahrenheit (17.18 degrees Celsius). That follows a short-lived record set Monday, at 62.6 degrees Fahrenheit (17.01 Celsius). The Climate Reanalyzer figures are unofficial but significant data, and an indication that climate change is reaching uncharted territory.
“The situation we are witnessing now is the demonstration that climate change is out of control,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said. “If we persist in delaying key measures that are needed, I think we are moving into a catastrophic situation, as the last two records in temperature demonstrates.”
More frequent and more intense heat waves are disrupting life around the world and causing life-threatening temperatures.
In Timbuktu, Mali – at the gateway to the Sahara Desert – 50-year-old Fatoumata Arby said this kind of heat is new.
“Usually, at night it´s a bit cool even during the hot season. But this year, even at night, it´s been hot – I´ve never seen anything like it,” said Arby, who rarely leaves her hometown. “I´ve been having heart palpitations because of the heat. I´m starting to think seriously that I´m going to leave Timbuktu.”
Last week, Egypt experienced one of its many summer heatwaves, with temperatures soaring above 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.7 degrees Celsius), according to the country’s national weather forecaster.
People are also feeling the effects in Nouakchot, Mauritania´s capital city, on the shores of the Atlantic. For Abdallahi Sy, a 56-year-old farmer who works in the market gardens, environmental changes have reduced his already-meager income.
“I have a small shelter built from wooden poles and scraps of cloth. I take refuge there when the heat becomes unbearable,” said Sy, who tries to work from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m., or noon at the latest. “After that … I practically can´t move because of the heat.” Customers don’t venture out until 5 p.m. or later to buy fertilizer and vegetables.
He cited a scarcity of water and quality feed for livestock as causes for illness and even miscarriage among animals: “It is clear that we are facing profound changes in our environment. The earth is becoming less fertile and less generous.”
Overall, one of the largest contributors to this week’s heat records is an exceptionally mild winter in the Antarctic. Parts of the continent and nearby ocean were 18-36 degrees Fahrenheit (10-20 degrees Celsius) higher than averages from 1979 to 2000.
“Temperatures have been unusual over the ocean and especially around the Antarctic this week, because wind fronts over the Southern Ocean are strong pushing warm air deeper south,” said Raghu Murtugudde, professor of atmospheric, oceanic and earth system science at the University of Maryland and visiting faculty at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay.
Chari Vijayaraghavan, a polar explorer and educator who has visited the Arctic and Antarctic regularly for the past 10 years, said global warming is obvious at both poles and threatens the region’s wildlife as well as driving ice melt that raises sea levels.
“Warming climates might lead to increasing risks of diseases such as the avian flu spreading in the Antarctic that will have devastating consequences for penguins and other fauna in the region,” Vijayaraghavan said.
Katharine Hayhoe, The Nature Conservancy chief scientist and a climate scientist at Texas Tech, said: “This is one more reminder of the inexorable upward trend that will only be halted by decisive actions to wean ourselves off fossil fuels, invest in nature, and achieve net zero.”