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HomeEarth ScienceClimate sciencesScientists have discovered the most intense heatwaves ever recorded on the planet

Scientists have discovered the most intense heatwaves ever recorded on the planet

The magnitude of the biggest extreme since 1950 in each location, represented in terms of departure from average temperatures, has been removed from the map to emphasise the effect of climate change trend. The use of darker hues indicates the presence of more extremes. Credit: University of Bristol

Researchers have discovered the most extreme heatwaves ever recorded around the globe and some of these remained undiscovered for decades.

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The study, sponsored by the University of Bristol, also suggests that if climate change worsens, heatwaves are expected to grow hotter in the future.

Last summer’s heat wave in western North America broke all prior records, with a Canadian high of 49.6 degrees Celsius on June 29 at Lytton, British Columbia, an increase of 4.6 degrees Celsius above the previous best.

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New research published in Science Advances today reveals five other, much more intense heatwaves that occurred around the world but went completely unreported.

Vikki Thompson, a climate scientist at the University of Bristol and the study’s co-author, said: “The globe was surprised by the recent heat wave in Canada and the US. As we’ll see, the extremes of recent decades have been considerably more dramatic. Climate models also show that extreme heat occurrences will grow in size over the next century, at the same rate as local average temperatures.”

One of the most destructive effects of harsh weather is heat waves. For the first time, a heatwave in western North America killed hundreds of Canadians. Wildfires caused considerable infrastructural damage and the destruction of crops as a result of their accompanying roaring.

The study, however, found that the three hottest-ever heatwaves in their respective locations occurred in Southeast Asia in April 1998, Brazil in November 1985, and the Southern United States in July 1980, with temperatures reaching 38.4 °C.

Dr. Vikki Thompson, a professor at the university’s Cabot Institute for the Environment, said: “The massive destruction caused by the heatwave in western North America will be long remembered. There have been a number of catastrophic weather events in recent decades that have gone mostly unnoticed since they occurred in more impoverished areas. Because both humans and the natural eco-systems are able to adapt to local temperature variations, a smaller absolute extreme may have greater damaging impacts in locations where there is less variance.”

Climate model estimates were also employed by the team of researchers to predict future heatwave patterns. Models predict that as global temperatures rise, so will the severity of heatwaves.

Even though the highest temperatures in a given area don’t always lead to the most severe consequences, they are frequently linked. Climate extremes can be better understood in order to prioritise interventions to aid the most vulnerable places.

Climate scientist Professor Dann Mitchell, a co-author from the University of Bristol, stated the following: “We have shown that many heatwaves outside of the industrialised world have gone completely unrecognised due to climate change, which is one of the largest global health challenges of our time. Countless lives can be lost each year as a result of extreme heat, especially in areas where temperatures regularly rise beyond average.”

On the basis of the dangers of climate change and the university’s clear commitment to assist combat this, Bristol University declared a climate emergency in 2019.

Further information: Vikki Thompson, The 2021 western North America heat wave among the most extreme events ever recorded globally, Science Advances (2022). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abm6860. www.science.org/doi/10.1126/sciadv.abm6860

Journal information: Science Advances

Source: University of Bristol

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