Global warming sharply escalated the risk, severity of heat in UK
The burning of fossil fuels and other factors are contributing to the extreme heat events in the UK.
A new study suggests that human-caused climate change shifted the scales substantially in favor of the country's record-breaking heat wave last week. The shift in climate and extreme weather are playing a big role in how global warming is affecting society. The study lays out the consequences of greenhouse gas emissions.
The extreme event attribution study sought to find out how climate change from the burning of fossil fuels and other factors is altering the odds and severity of extreme heat events in the UK.
It was discovered that the July 18 and 19 heat wave in the United Kingdom, which set a record for the hottest temperature in the country's history at 40.3°C, was at least ten times more likely to occur in today's warmer climate than in the preindustrial age.
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Additionally, reports revealed that the average temperatures during the heat wave were at least 2°C lower than they would have been in a world without today's high levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
Impact of events on climate today
21 scientists from around the world used historical weather data and computer model simulations to determine the frequency and severity of such events in today's climate, after about 1.2°C of global warming since the preindustrial era, to determine the effect of climate change on high temperatures in the UK.
This was then compared to computer model simulations of such a heat event occurring in a climate without today's high levels of greenhouse gas emissions. The study acknowledges that it likely underestimates the impact of global warming on this occurrence, and thus the likelihood and severity of similar disasters in the future.
With the UK heatwave and the catastrophic event in the Pacific Northwest last year, several climate scientists have questioned if their computer models underestimated the dangers of previously inconceivable extreme events.
When the researchers examined the UK heat, they discovered that the frequency and severity of high heat in Western Europe are already increasing faster than computer models predicted.
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Temperatures are expected to rise by 2°C during this heat wave, according to models, although historical evidence predicts twice that.
“In Europe and other parts of the world we are seeing more and more record-breaking heatwaves causing extreme temperatures that have become hotter faster than in most climate models," said Friederike Otto, a researcher at Imperial College London who co-directs the World Weather Attribution group, in a statement.
"It’s a worrying finding that suggests that if carbon emissions are not rapidly cut, the consequences of climate change on extreme heat in Europe, which already is extremely deadly, could be even worse than we previously thought,” she said.
Human-induced global warming
This new study adds to the accumulating evidence that human-induced global warming, primarily caused by the combustion of fossil fuels to create electricity, is heating up the globe and making it more volatile, with cascading hazards from catastrophic events.
Heat and precipitation extremes are becoming significantly more common and strong, according to the group's research.
Extreme heat episodes have been determined to be nearly impossible to occur in several circumstances without human-caused warming.
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