Human activity behind Western Europe’s recent heatwave

A team of international scientists has confirmed that the sizzling temperatures across much of Western Europe in June were likely caused by human influence on the climate.

Europe experienced extremely high temperatures this June, with hot days, warm nights and a spate of deadly wildfires that killed 64 in Portugal and forced more than 1,500 people from their homes in Spain. Even characteristically damp England observed its hottest June day since the legendary hot summer of 1976.

According to new analysis by scientists with World Weather Attribution (WWA) and scientific partners in England, France and Switzerland, human influence on the climate significantly increased the likelihood of this extreme heat event occurring.

In fact, climate change has made the intensity and frequency of such extreme heat at least twice as likely in Belgium, at least four times as likely in France, Switzerland, the Netherlands and central England, and at least 10 times as likely in Portugal and Spain.

“We found clear and strong links between this month’s record warmth and human-caused climate change,” said Geert Jan van Oldenborgh, senior researcher at the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI). “Local temperature records show a clear warming trend, even faster than in climate models that simulate the effects of burning fossil fuels but also solar variability and land use changes,” he added.

The scientists used climate models with and without human influences and studied the changes in hot June temperatures. Based on each of these model experiments, they clearly found that human-caused climate change has increased the likelihood of hot June temperatures. This is the case even in very small regions like central England and central Netherlands, where the climate is more variable making it harder to find a climate change signal, explained Andrew King from the University of Melbourne.

“Hot months are no longer rare in our current climate. Today we can expect the kind of extreme heat that we saw in June roughly every 10 to 30 years, depending on the country,” said Robert Vautard, a researcher at the Laboratory of Climate and Environmental Sciences (LSCE). “By the middle of the century, this kind of extreme heat in June will become the norm in Western Europe unless we take immediate steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Extreme heat can be deadly, especially for the young and the elderly, warned Friederike Otto, a senior researcher at Oxford University. “It is critical that cities work with scientists and public health experts to develop heat action plans. Climate change is impacting communities right now and these plans save lives.”

France, Switzerland and the Netherlands all triggered heat wave plans last month.


Image credit: Chris JL, flickr/Creative Commons

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