Climate change drives heatwaves and wildfires

Wednesday 27th July 2022 06:48 EDT
 
 

Washington: Brutal heatwaves are gripping both Europe and the United States this week and are forecast to dump searing heat on much of China into late August.

In addition to temperatures spiking above 40 Celsius (104 Fahrenheit), wildfires are raging across southern Europe with evacuations in towns in Italy and Greece.
The searing heat is part of a global pattern of rising temperatures, attributed by scientists to human activity. Pope Francis called on world leaders to heed the Earth's "chorus of cries of anguish" stemming from climate change, extreme weather and loss of biodiversity.

Climate change makes heatwaves hotter and more frequent. This is the case for most land regions, and has been confirmed by the UN's global panel of climate scientists (IPCC).

Greenhouse gas emissions from human activities have heated the planet by about 1.2 Celsius since pre-industrial times. That warmer baseline means higher temperatures can be reached during extreme heat events.

"Every heatwave that we are experiencing today has been made hotter and more frequent because of climate change," said Friederike Otto, a climate scientist at Imperial College London who also co-leads the World Weather Attribution research collaboration.

But other conditions affect heatwaves too. In Europe, atmospheric circulation is an important factor. A study in the journal Nature this month found that heatwaves in Europe have increased three-to-four times faster than in other northern mid-latitudes such as the United States. The authors linked this to changes in the jet stream - a fast west-to-east air current in the northern hemisphere.


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