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Science: After Record-Setting Summer, More ‘Mega-Heatwaves’ on the European Horizon

The heat wave that blasted large parts of Eastern Europe last summer likely made 2010 the warmest of the last 510 years in Europe, according to researchers.

David Barriopedro from the University of Lisbon in Portugal and colleagues from across Europe have analyzed the available data and concluded that the 2010 heat wave was even hotter and more widespread than the European summer heat wave of 2003. In their report, published in the 18 March issue of Science, they say that last summer’s hot weather took a major toll—and they highlight the need to redraw the temperature record map of Europe.

In Russia alone, there were more than 55,000 heat-related deaths, extensive wildfires, an annual crop failure of about 25%, and a total economic loss of around 1% of Russia’s gross domestic product, according to preliminary estimates cited by the authors.

European summer temperatures for 1500-2010. Statistical frequency distribution of European ([35oN, 70oN], [25oW, 40oE]) summer land temperature anomalies (oC, relative to the 1970-1999 period) for the 1500-2010 period (vertical lines). The five warmest and coldest summers are highlighted. Grey bars represent the distribution for the 1500-2002 period, with a Gaussian fit in black. The bottom panel shows the running decadal frequency of extreme summers, defined as those with temperature above the 95th percentile of the 1500-2002 distribution. A 10-yr smoothing is applied. Dotted line shows the 95th percentile of the distribution of maximum decadal values that would be expected by random chance. View a larger version of this image.


“During that time, extensive fires across western Russia killed 53 people and made 3,500 people homeless, and Moscow suffered a devastating rise in mortality… and air pollution,” Barriopedro and his colleagues write in the report.

To put the 2010 heat wave in perspective, the researchers compared it with other temperature anomalies reaching back to 1871, in terms of length, spatial extent and temperature. They say that at least two summers in this decade—2003 and 2010—have most likely been the warmest of the last 510 years in Europe.

“During the 2001-2010 decade, 500-year long records were broken over approximately 65% of Europe, including eastern Europe, southwestern-central Europe, the Balkans and Turkey,” they report.

An analysis of modeling results indicated that major heat waves will probably become five to 10 times more likely over the next 40 years, the researchers said, though they concluded that an event with a magnitude reaching that of the 2010 heat wave is unlikely to occur until after 2050.

Read the report, “The Hot Summer of 2010: Redrawing the Temperature Record Map of Europe,” by David Barriopedro et al.