It is a sad and tragic day as an unprecedented heat event expands into England, a country with only three percent of homes air-conditioned. France, already experiencing its second deadly heatwave this summer is slightly better at only five percent of its homes with air conditioning. Poor Iberia is hammered by drought, wildfires, and record-breaking heat. In Italy, a second glacier collapse appears imminent, with audible cracking at Mont Blanc and worries that the Matterhorn in Switzerland may share the same fate.
There will likely be thousands of deaths today, adding to a rising and existing toll from Iberia over the past few days. The death counts are topping a thousand deaths. They are ‘recorded deaths.’ Remember, death certificates do not mention climate change as a contributing factor. People die of heat stress, kidney failure, diabetes, old age, spoiled food after power loss, and dehydration, to name just a few. The reported deaths never say that someone dies due to greenhouse gas emissions.
Copernicus warned today that there are high levels of ozone. Ozone surface pollution can be lethal to all life forms. In our cities, we know it as smog.
Scientists at The Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) are warning very high levels of ozone pollution in southern Europe caused by the heatwave could now affect northwestern regions in the coming week. The prediction comes after extremely high surface ozone pollution was experienced across western and southern Europe, particularly along the west Coast of Portugal and parts of northern Italy.
CAMS, which is implemented by the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts on behalf of the European Commission with funding from the European Union, continues to monitor surface ozone concentrations following the increase in levels caused by the heatwave, alongside devastating wildfires.
In mid-July, daily maximum values of surface ozone, which peak during the middle of the day, reached unhealthy levels in Portugal, Spain and Italy with some locations measuring in excess of 200 μg/m3. While concentrations are forecast to ease across the Iberian Peninsula, they are expected to increase above 120 μg/m3 across northern and western parts of Europe from 18th July as the heatwave brings record temperatures. They are forecast to peak during 18th to 20th July before easing.
Ozone at the Earth’s surface is a key air pollutant that can affect human health, agriculture and even ecosystems. Ozone (O3) is a reactive gas within two layers of the atmosphere, the stratosphere (between altitudes of approximately 15 and 50 km) and the troposphere (up to approximately 15 km altitude). The well-known ozone layer in the stratosphere protects life on Earth from the sun’s ultraviolet radiation. However, at lower altitudes, it plays different roles as a major greenhouse gas, in regulating atmospheric composition, and as a component of air pollutant where it is one of the main elements of urban smog. As it is a secondary gas formed by the interaction of sunlight with volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides emitted by fossil fuels and other man-made sources, cutting emissions is crucial.
Henry Fountain writes in the NY Times about why these events are so dangerous for Europe and different from heating events in the rest of the world.
Global warming plays a role, as it does in heat waves around the world, because temperatures are on average about 2 degrees Fahrenheit (1.1 degrees Celsius) higher than they were in the late 19th century, before emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases became widespread. So extreme heat takes off from a higher starting point.
But beyond that, there are other factors, some involving the circulation of the atmosphere and the ocean, that may make Europe a heat wave hot spot.
Low-pressure zones tend to draw air toward them. In this case, the low-pressure zone has been steadily drawing air from North Africa toward it and Europe. “It’s pumping hot air northward,” said Kai Kornhuber, a researcher at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, part of Columbia University.
Dr. Kornhuber contributed to a study published this month that found that heat waves in Europe had increased in frequency and intensity over the past four decades, and linked the increase at least in part to changes in the jet stream. The researchers found that many European heat waves occurred when the jet stream had temporarily split in two, leaving an area of weak winds and high pressure air between the two branches that is conducive to the buildup of extreme heat.
No two heat waves are precisely the same. The current scorching temperatures that reached into England and Wales on Monday were caused in part by a region of upper level low-pressure air that has been stalled off the coast of Portugal for days. It’s known as a “cutoff low” in the parlance of atmospheric scientists, because it was cut off from a river of westerly winds, the mid-latitude jet stream, that circles the planet at high altitudes.
Dr. Kornhuber said warming in the Arctic, which is occurring much faster than other parts of the world, may play a role. As the Arctic warms at a faster rate, the temperature differential between it and the Equator decreases. This leads to a decrease in summertime winds, which has the effect of making weather systems linger for longer. “We do see an increase in persistence,” he said.
What we are seeing today raises a serious question; what happens when unprecedented heating impacts intersect with an energy crisis? We will find out soon enough after summer ends. And winter is coming.
How 2022 compares to Europe’s hottest summers
2021: Hottest ever
Last year is Europe’s hottest summer on record, according to the European climate change monitoring service Copernicus.
2019: Northern Europe swelters
The summer of 2019 brings two heatwaves, which leave around 2,500 people dead, according to the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters of Belgium’s Louvain University.
2018: Drought drains the Danube
The second half of July and beginning of August 2018 sees very high temperatures across much of Europe and rivers running dry due to drought.
2017: Months of mugginess
Much of Europe, but especially the south, sweats from late June to well into August.
2015: Back-to-back heatwaves
It’s heatwave after heatwave throughout the summer of 2015 which leaves an estimated 1,700 people dead in France.
2007: Greek forests ablaze
Central and southern Europe are parched by drought throughout June and July, provoking a spate of forest fires in Italy, North Macedonia and Serbia.
2003: 70,000 dead
Britain, France, Italy, Spain and Portugal all experience exceptional heat in the first half of August, with Portugal suffering a record 47.3C at Amareleja in the south.