The numbers are in, and scientists can now confirm what month after month of extraordinary heat worldwide began signalling long ago. Last year was Earth’s warmest by far in a century and a half. Global temperatures started blowing past records midyear and didn’t stop. First, June was the planet’s warmest June on record. Then, July was the warmest July. And so on, all the way through December.

Averaged across last year, temperatures worldwide were 1.48C, higher than they were in the second half of the 19th century, the European Union climate monitor announced Tuesday. That is warmer by a sizable margin than 2016, the previous hottest year.

To climate scientists, it comes as no surprise that unabated emissions of greenhouse gases caused global warming to reach new highs. What researchers are still trying to understand is whether 2023 foretells many more years in which heat records are not merely broken, but smashed. In other words, they are asking whether the numbers are a sign that the planet’s warming is accelerating.

When scientists combine their satellite readings with geological evidence on the climate’s more distant past, 2023 also appears to be among the warmest years in at least 100,000, said Carlo Buontempo, director of the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service, at a news briefing. “There were simply no cities, no books, agriculture or domesticated animals on this planet the last time the temperature was so high,” he said.

Every 10th of a degree of global warming represents extra thermodynamic fuel that intensifies heat waves and storms, adds to rising seas and hastens the melting of glaciers and ice sheets. Those effects were on display last year. Hot weather baked Iran and China, Greece and Spain, Texas and the American South. Canada had its most destructive wildfire season on record. Less sea ice formed around the coasts of Antarctica, in both summer and winter, than ever measured.

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