5 Things to Know About Europe’s Scorching Heatwave
For the last few months, Europe’s smoldering heatwave has been wreaking havoc across the region, causing destructive wildfires, severe droughts, and thousands of deaths.
The EU’s record-breaking temperatures are making headlines around the world, as experts worry these extreme heatwaves could be the region’s new normal.
Given the volume of coverage on the topic, we sifted through dozens of articles and Twitter threads (so you don’t have to) and complied a list of the five major things to know about Europe’s smothering heatwave.
① High Temperatures are Shattering Records
Temperatures have been hitting all-time highs across the region.
On Monday, July 18, dozens of towns across France reported record-breaking temperatures of up to 42°C (107.6°F). In the same week, the UK experienced its hottest day on record at 40.3°C (104.5°F), breaking Britain’s previous record of (38.7°C) 101.7°F that was set back in 2019.
The heat in London was so unprecedented, the city’s national rail service issued a warning to the public, urging passengers to stay home and only travel if necessary. Some major rail lines were even closed for parts of the day on Tuesday, July 19.
② Europe is Feeling the Burn
The smoldering heat is fueling disastrous wildfires across the continent. As of July 20, an estimated 1,977 wildfires have blazed across the region in 2022—almost 3x the average amount, according to historical data from the European Forest Fire Information System.
Mediterranean countries have been hit particularly hard, with thousands of people in Portugal, Spain, and France evacuating their homes.
③ Going With the (Low) Flow
Along with the devastating wildfires, Europe’s heatwave is also causing a series of droughts across the region.
While most European cities have at least one river or lake crossing their urban landscape, these rivers and bodies of water are at risk of drying out. For instance in early July, Italy’s Po River was experiencing a drought so severe, that the country’s government issued a state of emergency in five different regions.
④ Energy Demands are Creating an Awkward Situation
Last year, Europe set ambitious goals to cut 55% of its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.
But, in the wake of a global energy crisis, many European countries have put their green transition plans on hold as they turn to “dirtier” fuels like coal to keep their economies running business-as-usual. This timing is a tad awkward, considering the fact the region is currently ablaze with record-breaking temperatures that experts believe are human-induced.
The aforementioned “low flow” on many European rivers are also impacting hydroelectricity and even nuclear electricity generation, as too little water is available for cooling purposes.
On the bright side, at least Germany has made some progress in the realm of renewable energy—on July 17, the country generated a record-breaking amount of electricity from solar panels.
⑤ Climate Change is a Factor, but Heatwaves are Complicated
Experts claim that climate change is playing a part in these record-breaking heatwaves. Around the world, global surface temperatures have risen by about 1.0°C (1.8°F) since the 1850s, and scientists claim this temperature increase has been indisputably influenced by human activity.
However, there may be other factors that are influencing these extreme heatwaves. While the exact specifics are difficult to nail down due to the variable nature of the climate, a recent study published in Nature Communications found that Europe’s escalating heatwaves could be partly attributed to changing air currents, which are blowing hot air from North Africa to Europe.
The Bottom Line
At least 1,500 lives have been lost so far amidst this record-breaking heatwave. And since temperatures are expected to remain high across the region for at least another week, this figure will likely increase.
European homes are generally not well equipped for exceptionally high temperatures, and since the continent has the oldest median age of any region, its population is particularly susceptible to the negative effects of extreme weather.
Livelihoods are also being impacted by the extreme weather. Temperatures are drying out soil, which is creating poor growing conditions for corn farmers in France, Romania, and Spain, the region’s top corn producers.
Long story short—Europe’s heatwave is having disastrous effects on its economy and infrastructure, as well as the overall wellbeing of the region’s population.
Update: The map from cool.wx was revised to better reflect Europe’s present day borders.
Mapped: Average Wind Speed Across the U.S.
Wind is a great renewable energy source, but the spread of potential power is uneven. This graphic maps the average wind speed of the continental U.S.
Mapped: Average Wind Speed Across the U.S.
Wind energy is a hot topic in North America and around the world as a decarbonization tool, but full utilization requires a lot of wind.
Zooming in, you can examine North America’s wind regions and patterns in great detail. Clearly visible is the concentration of high wind speeds in the Great Plains (known as the Prairies in Canada), which has the greatest potential for wind power. You can also follow westerly winds traveling through the North American Cordillera of mountains, including the Rocky Mountains and Cascades.
Meanwhile, the Eastern U.S. and Canada have significantly lower average wind speeds, especially in the American South. That’s despite hurricanes with extremely high winds occasionally moving northward along the Eastern Seaboard towards the North Atlantic.
Visualizing the Impact of Rising Sea Levels, by Country
Here’s a look at how people around the world could be impacted by coastal flooding by 2100, based on rising sea level projections.
Climate change is already causing sea levels to rise across the globe. In the 20th century alone, it’s estimated that the mean global sea level rose by 11-16 cm.
How much will sea levels change in the coming years, and how will it affect our population?
In the below series of visualizations by Florent Lavergne, we can see how rising sea levels could impact countries in terms of flood risk by the year 2100.
These graphics use data from a 2019 study by Scott Kulp and Benjamin Strauss. Their study used CoastalDEM—a 3D graphics tool used to measure a population’s potential exposure to extreme coastal water levels—and examined rising sea levels under different levels of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Flood Risk By Region
Which countries will be most severely affected by rising sea levels?
If things continue as they are, roughly 360 million people around the world could be at risk of annual flood events by 2100. Here’s what those figures look like across each region:
On the continent of Africa, one of the countries with the highest number of people at risk of coastal flooding is Egypt.
Over 95% of Egypt’s population lives along the Nile river, with some areas situated at extremely low elevations. The country’s lowest point is 133 m below sea level.
Asia’s population will be more heavily impacted by flooding than any other region included in the dataset.
According to the projections, 70% of the people that will be affected by rising sea levels are located in just eight Asian countries: China, Bangladesh, India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, and Japan.
One of the most high-risk populations in Europe is the Netherlands. The country has a population of about 17 million, and as of 2019, about half of its population lives in areas below sea level.
The country’s lowest point, the town Nieuwekerk aan den Ijssel, is 6.8 m below sea level.
In North America, the U.S., Canada, and Mexico are expected to see the highest numbers of impacted people, due to the size of their populations.
But as a percentage of population, other countries in Central America and the Caribbean are more greatly at risk, especially in high emission scenarios. One country worth highlighting is the Bahamas. Even based on moderate emission levels, the country is expected to see a significant surge in the number of people at risk of flood.
According to the World Bank, this is because land in the Bahamas is relatively flat, making the island especially vulnerable to sea level rises and flooding.
As South America’s largest country by population and with large coastal cities, Brazil‘s population is the most at risk for flood caused by rising sea levels.
Notably, thanks to a lot of mountainous terrain and municipalities situated on high elevation, no country in South America faces a flood risk impacting more than 1 million people.
By 2100, Polynesian countries like Tonga are projected to see massive increases in the number of people at risk of flooding, even at moderate GHG emissions.
According to Reuters, sea levels in Tonga have been rising by 6 mm each year, which is nearly double the average global rate. The reason for this is because the islands sit in warmer waters, where sea level changes are more noticeable than at the poles.
What’s Causing Sea Levels to Rise?
Since 1975, average temperatures around the world have risen 0.15 to 0.20°C each decade, according to research by NASA.
This global heating has caused polar ice caps to begin melting—in just over two decades, we’ve lost roughly 28 trillion tonnes of our world’s ice. Over that same timeframe, global sea levels have risen by an average of 36 mm. These rising sea levels pose a number of risks, including soil contamination, loss of habitat, and flooding.
As countries are affected by climate change in different ways, and at different levels, the question becomes how they will respond in turn.
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