Climate change made UK heatwave at least 10 times more likely: Study

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Bathers cool down in the River Thames, during a heatwave, in Oxford, Britain. (Reuters photo)

NEW DELHI: Climate change made the torrid heatwave that swept across the United Kingdom last week 10 times more likely, according to an analysis by an international team of leading climate scientists.
On July 18-19, an exceptional heatwave affected large parts of the UK. It was the first time that temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius and above had been realised in the country.
A total of 46 stations met or exceeded the previous record in a band stretching from Kent to North Yorkshire. Scotland recorded its maximum temperature above 35 degrees Celsius for the first time, breaking the previous record of 32.9 degrees Celsius on August 9, 2003.
Twenty-one scientists, who are part of the World Weather Attribution group, analysed weather data and computer simulations to compare today’s climate with the past. They found that the frequency and magnitude of such events has increased due to human-caused climate change.
The record-breaking heatwave in India and Pakistan, which caused widespread human suffering and hit global wheat supplies, was about 30 times more likely to happen due to climate change, the scientists of the World Weather Attribution network had said in May.
India saw its warmest March this year since its weather bureau began keeping records 122 years ago, amid a 71 per cent rain deficit. Northwest and central India had experienced the hottest April since 1901.
Several places in the country had logged their all-time high temperatures for April as the mercury leaped to 46-47 degrees Celsius under the impact of a punishing heatwave at month-end.
India logged 203 heatwave days this summer, the highest in the recent past, according to data shared by the government in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday.
The country had recorded just 36 heatwave days in 2021.
The new study, however, said that determining the exact contribution of climate change proved difficult, as extreme heat in western Europe has increased more than estimated by climate models.
Historical weather records indicate that the temperatures would have been four degrees Celsius lower in a world that had not been warmed by human activities.
This suggests that models are underestimating the real impact of human-caused climate change on high temperatures in the UK and other parts of western Europe, the study said.
It also means that the results of the analysis are conservative and climate change likely increased the frequency of the event by more than a factor of 10, the scientists said.
“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.
“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,” said Friederike Otto, Senior Lecturer in Climate Science at the Grantham Institute for Climate Change, Imperial College London.
“Two years ago, scientists at the UK Met Office found the chance of seeing 40 degrees in the UK was now 1 in 100 in any given year, up from 1 in 1000 in the natural climate. It’s been sobering to see such an event happen so soon after that study, to see the raw data coming back from our weather stations,” said Fraser Lott, Climate Monitoring and Attribution Scientist at the Met Office Hadley Centre.


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