A new study analyzed data on near-surface air temperatures recorded in northwest Europe over the past 60 years. The results show that the maximum temperature of hot days increases at twice the rate of the maximum temperature of average summer days. The findings highlight the need for urgent action by policymakers to adapt critical infrastructure to the impacts of climate change.
New research led by the University of Oxford finds that climate change is causing hot days in northwestern Europe to warm twice as often as average summer days. The difference in trends is most pronounced in England, Wales and northern France. Concerningly, while current climate models accurately predict the rate of warming for mean days, they underestimate the rate of warming for hotter days compared to observations.
According to lead researcher Dr Matthew Patterson, from Oxford University’s Department of Physics, the findings suggest that extreme heat events – such as last summer’s record-breaking heatwave in the UK – are likely to become more regular. Dr Patterson said: ‘These findings underscore the fact that the UK and neighboring countries are already suffering from the effects of climate change, and that last year’s heat wave was no coincidence. Policymakers urgently need to adapt their infrastructure and health systems to deal with the effects of rising temperatures.
For a study published today in Geosearch messagesDr. Patterson analyzed data from the past 60 years (1960-2021) recording the maximum daily temperature, provided by the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts.
Although the maximum recorded temperature varied between years, the general trend clearly showed that the hottest days in northwest Europe warmed at twice the rate of summer days. For England and Wales, the average summer day increased by about 0.26°C per decade, while the hottest day increased by about 0.58°C per decade. However, this faster warming on extremely hot days has not been observed anywhere else in the Northern Hemisphere.
It is not yet understood why this is faster warming on hot days than on average summer days. According to Dr. Patterson, this may be due to the hottest summer days in northwest Europe often associated with hot air carried north over Spain. Since Spain is warming faster than Northwest Europe, this means that the air transported from this region is more extreme compared to the air around Northwest Europe. For example, the hottest days in 2022 were driven by a plume of hot air that was transported north from Spain and the Sahara. However, more research is needed to verify this.
Dr Patterson added: “Understanding the rate of warming on hot days will be important if we are to improve climate model simulations 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.” consequential.
Extreme heat has significant negative effects on many different aspects of society, including energy infrastructure, transportation, and agriculture. It also exacerbates conditions, including respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, putting pressure on health services.
The current UK government has been criticized by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) for failing to act quickly enough to adapt to the effects of global warming. These new findings add more urgency for policymakers to adapt infrastructure and systems exposed to extreme heat.