A recent study led by the University of Oxford has found that climate change is causing the hottest days in North-West Europe to warm at double the rate of average summer days, particularly in England, Wales, and Northern France. The research suggests that extreme heat events – such as UK’s massive heatwave last summer – are likely to become more common in the near future.
Moreover, the experts discovered that although current climate models accurately predict the warming of average summer days, they greatly underestimate the rate at which the hottest days are warming compared to real-life observations.
“These findings underline the fact that the UK and neighboring countries are already experiencing the effects of climate change, and that last year’s heatwave was not a fluke. Policy makers urgently need to adapt their infrastructure and health systems to cope with the impacts of higher temperatures,” said study author Matthew Patterson, a postdoctoral fellow in Climate Dynamics at Oxford.
By analyzing data from the past 60 years (1960-2021) recording the maximum daily temperature (provided by the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts), Patterson discovered that while the maximum recorded temperature varied between years, the hottest days for North-West Europe had warmed at twice the rate of average summer days.
For instance, while average summer days temperatures in England and Wales increased by about 0.26C per decade, the temperatures in the hottest days increased by 0.58C per decade. This faster warming of the hottest days was not observed to this extent in other regions in the Northern Hemisphere.
According to Patterson, the reason causing this faster warming may be linked to hot air transported north from Spain. Since Spain is warming faster than countries in North-West Europe, the air carried in from this region is considerably hotter than the ambient air in the north.
One such phenomenon occurred in 2022, when a plume of hot air carried north from Spain and the Sahara led to massive heatwaves. However, further research is needed to verify these hypotheses.
“Understanding the warming rate of the hottest days will be important if we are to improve climate model simulation of extreme events and make accurate predictions about the future intensity of such events. If our models underestimate the rise in extreme temperatures over the coming decades, we will underestimate the impacts this will have,” Patterson concluded.
The study is published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.
Global warming, a type of climate change, has significant potential impacts on human health, both directly and indirectly. These impacts can be categorized into several broad areas:
Rising temperatures can increase the likelihood of heat strokes, heat exhaustion, and other heat-related illnesses. This is particularly concerning for vulnerable populations such as the elderly, children, and those with existing health conditions.
Warmer temperatures can increase the concentration of pollutants like ozone in the air, exacerbating respiratory conditions like asthma and bronchitis. Additionally, higher temperatures can enhance the production of allergens such as pollen, leading to more severe and prolonged allergy seasons.
Warmer climates can extend the range of disease-carrying vectors like mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas, potentially leading to a rise in diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, Lyme disease, and Zika virus.
Changes in temperature and precipitation patterns can affect the availability and quality of water and food supplies. For example, droughts can lead to water shortages, and warmer temperatures can increase the risk of food contamination.
The effects of climate change, such as extreme weather events, can lead to mental health problems such as stress, anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Global warming can increase the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events such as storms, floods, droughts, and wildfires. These can directly cause injuries and deaths, as well as indirectly affect health by causing displacement, damaging infrastructure, and disrupting essential services such as healthcare.
To mitigate these effects, it’s crucial to undertake both mitigation strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adaptation strategies to prepare for and respond to the health risks associated with climate change.
Rising temperatures due to global warming can have profound impacts on wildlife and biodiversity. Here are several ways this can occur:
One of the most significant impacts of rising temperatures is the potential for habitat loss. For instance, warmer temperatures are causing Arctic ice to melt, threatening species like polar bears and seals that depend on sea ice for survival. Similarly, warmer temperatures can also dry out wetlands, harm coral reefs, and lead to forest die-offs.
Many species rely on the timing of natural events, such as flowering or insect emergence, for survival. For example, birds may migrate and breed based on the length of daylight. If these patterns are disrupted by changing temperatures, it can lead to mismatches between animals and their food sources.
Species adapted to cold climates, such as penguins, snow leopards, and many species of fish, may struggle to survive as temperatures rise.
Warmer temperatures can allow disease vectors and invasive species to move into new areas, impacting native wildlife. For example, warmer winters have allowed pine beetles to devastate North American forests they couldn’t previously inhabit due to cold.
Changes in temperature can affect the availability of food sources for many species. For example, changes in sea temperature can affect the abundance and location of fish stocks, impacting the birds and mammals that rely on them for food.
Warmer temperatures can cause changes in species distribution and migration patterns. Some species may move to higher altitudes or latitudes to find cooler conditions, potentially leading to competition with other species.
In many cases, wildlife’s ability to adapt to rising temperatures is hindered by other human impacts, such as habitat destruction and pollution. Therefore, efforts to protect wildlife from climate change often involve addressing these other threats as well.