Scientists warn world heatwaves will intensify

Heatwaves will become more severe, more intense and will last for much longer throughout Europe and North America, according to a recent study.

Two scientists from the National Centre for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in the US published the modelling study examining the Earth's future climate. The results show that increasing amounts of heat-absorbing greenhouse gases intensify an unusual atmospheric circulation pattern observed in heatwaves in North America and Europe. As the pattern becomes more pronounced, periods of extremely hot weather occur.

Gerald Meehl, one of the scientists who led the study, stated that the average heatwave could soon last up to three days longer, and by 2080 there will be at least two every year rather than just one. He also warned that countries needed to make preparations for the impending change in the weather.

"Places such as France, Germany and the Balkans could see increases of heat intensity that could have more serious impacts because these areas are not currently as well adapted to heatwaves," he said.

Mr Meehl said that global warming posed a serious threat, and action needed to be taken to prevent weather patterns from becoming more extreme: "It's the extreme weather and climate events that will have some of the most severe impacts on human society as the climate changes."

For the study, Mr Meehl and his colleague Claudia Tebaldi compared present and future decades to see how greenhouse gases and sulphate aerosols could affect climate change. They demonstrated how we were on track for atmospheric pressure changes to be heavily enhanced by accumulating amounts of carbon dioxide (see related story) in the atmosphere, assuming there would be little in the way of policy intervention to slow down the build-up.

According to the study, heatwaves can kill more people in a shorter time than almost any other climatic event. In France alone, over 15,000 people and thousands more animals died last summer as a result of the high temperatures.

Patches of extreme weather have occurred throughout Europe this summer, with uncontrollable fires raging in Portugal (see related story) and parts of France and Spain.

By Jane Kettle



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