Study Finds Prominent Traces of Climate Change in the Current Heat Wave of Europe

Europe is entirely under the grip of climate change caused extreme heat waves that led temperatures soaring to 114 degrees Fahrenheit in late June, at least five times more likely by global warming, said World Weather Attribution group’s scientists on Tuesday. It was not just Europe, and it was the hottest June on record globally.

The finding was quick and precise, which could not be easily declared in the past without hedging heavily.

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The older people were vulnerable due to the weeklong heat, which even damaged roads and railroad tracks. It also forced the authority to reschedule the national school exams in France. In the history of the country, it was one of the most intense heat waves according to the Swiss meteorological service, giving a clear climate change signal.

“The normally hottest part of the summer is yet to come,” World Weather Attribution’s Geert Jan van Oldenborgh warned on Twitter.

The scientists of the World Weather Attribution focussed on France while the heat wave was experienced to assess the global warming effect.

They compared heat waves using climate models and records of historical temperature, including and excluding the effects of greenhouse gases caused by human. As per their calculation, the extreme June heat event was at least five times more likely because of global warming and the probability was likely more than that.

“Without considering climate model results, the observed temperature record suggests that a heat wave like the one in June is now at least 10 times more likely than in 1901, and possibly 100 times or more, and that maximum heat wave temperatures are about 4 degrees Celsius [about 7°F] warmer now than in 1901,” said co-author Robert Vautard, a climate researcher at the Laborataire des Sciences du Climat in France.

Similar rapid attribution studies for European heat waves were conducted in 2017 and 2018 by the same team.

“Every heat wave occurring in Europe today is made more likely and more intense by human-induced climate change,” the scientists wrote in the latest study. “How much more depends very strongly on the event definition: location, season, intensity, and duration.”

They are worried as this could be a deadly trend because extreme heat waves are occurring more frequently than projected by climate models.

Spreading across western and central Europe last week, the heat wave raised the temperatures between 10°F and 18°F more than usual in France, Germany, northern Spain, northern Italy, Switzerland, Austria, and the Czech Republic. Cities and towns also set monthly and all-time highs.

Europe witnessed its hottest June on record crossing its previous high set in 1999 by a full 1.8°F (1°C) temperature. On Tuesday, the European climate service, Copernicus, announced that for the entire world, its the warmest June on record, topping the reading since June 2016 that followed a warming El Niño.

‘We’re Locked Into a Large Amount of Warming’

Europe suffered hot nights as the heat wave lingered for days and didn’t give a chance to humans as well as buildings to cool down. Although deaths from heat wave often outnumber deaths from rest of natural disasters annually, they don’t get much public attention as they typically don’t appear in the statistics until after the event.

Friederike Otto, acting director of the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford and a co-author of the study, said, people should reconsider how they live as heat waves intensify.

“All over Europe, we need to build much better,” she said. “We need well-insulated buildings that keep cool in summer and warm in winter. Without that, we will suffer in heat waves, but importantly also not reach net zero carbon emissions.”

The prolonged extreme heat over days or weeks, can also stress crops, disrupt pollination and cause flooding when record high temperature at high elevations melted the accumulated snow of the winter quickly as was reported along Austria’s Inn River in early June.

Daniel Swain, a climate scientist with UCLA and the National Center for Atmospheric Research, said, the findings in the attribution study about the heat wave are in line with other recent studies, including significant reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the National Climate Assessment.

Apart from other dangerous impacts of global warming, scientists are sure that due to the build-up of the greenhouse gases, temperatures will continue to soaring to abnormal highs frequently.

In a 2017 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, according to Swain and other scientists, in 80 percent cases of all the heat waves in areas with reliable records of temperature, human fingerprints were established. He said, in coming decades, temperatures will be hotter than today in every summer.

To study the causes of the heat waves, researchers are keeping an eye on changes in the jet stream and other ocean-atmospheric patterns, however “just the temperature rise of global warming is enough to drive unprecedented heat waves,” Swain said.

“If you have the same exact weather patterns and you add 1 to 2 degrees Celsius warming on top of that, you’re going to increase the likelihood of unprecedented heat waves,” he said.

“Everything will be unprecedented. Summer is like a whole new season of heat for much of the world.

“That is scary, because you can imagine a whole summer that is hotter than the extremes right now. We are locked into a large amount of additional warming even in an optimistic emissions scenario,” he said. “What we do in the next few years matters.”

Thawing Greenland, Arctic Warming & Extreme Wildfires

Hannah Cloke, the researcher of climate at the University of Reading (UK), is working on improving warning systems for people about extreme events by combining wildfires’ data, including smoke impacts along with heat stress data. He said, the heat wave of June also prepared the stage for a vast, fast-moving wildfire in Spain.

“This is actually really getting quite scary,” she said. “It’s a human problem, not a scientific problem.

“We are deep into the red and there’s not really a way back from that.”

This summer heat waves also have been occurring throughout the Northern Hemisphere like last year.

In Greenland, there was widespread melting across the surface of the ice sheet early in June due to the heat wave. The sea ice around the coast of Alaska is melting faster than usual, setting new temperature highs, and nearly half a million acres already burned this year because of wildfires.

Few of those fires also lit up the Arctic Circle including many others in Siberia. Mark Parrington, a senior scientist with Copernicus ECMWF, pointed to an “unprecedented” level of wildfire activity in the Arctic during June.

The deadly heat wave in early June also affected India and Pakistan that contributed to the depleting of a major municipal water reservoir in Chennai, India, with a population of about 10 million people.

For the first time on record, San Francisco on the U.S. West Coast hit 100°F in June and Portland reached 97°F. The temperature increased so much at Northern California’s Bodega Head that mussels in the intertidal zone mostly got cooked in their shells.

Arindom Ghosh

A professional writer, blogger, copywriter, and a member of the International Association of Professional Writers and Editors, New York. He has been part of many reputed domestic and global online magazines and publications. An avid reader and a nature lover by heart, when he is not working, he is probably exploring the secrets of life.