It’s the dog days of summer, and things are hot – and getting hotter.
For much of Europe, and especially southern Europe, temperatures have been steadily increasing year after year. Not only was 2021 one of the warmest years on record, Sicily recorded what could very well be Europe’s hottest temperature ever, seeing the mercury hit a scorching 48.8°C.
This summer it’s more of the same. The European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) recently reported that the global average temperature for June was about 0.31ºC higher than the 1991-2020 average, making it the third warmest June on record. Furthermore, Europe as a whole had its second warmest June on record, at about 1.6ºC above average.
This isn’t a fluke or some kind of anomaly. According to an article published in Horizon, the EU’s research and innovation magazine, temperatures have been steadily on the rise for years, the result of increasing – and largely unchecked – climate change. The annual European State of the Climate (ESOTC) report, which provides a timely, transparent and detailed description of the evolving climate, backs this claim. This year’s edition shows that, despite year-to-year variability, global temperatures have increased since the pre-industrial era, by 1.1 – 1.2°C.
How do we know all this?
Copernicus – the European Earth Observation programme.
Copernicus, or more specifically the Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S), supports society, climate researchers and decision makers by providing authoritative information about the past, present and future climate in Europe and the rest of the world. As with other Copernicus services, CS3 processes and analyses a wealth of satellite and in situ data, transforming it into value-added information.
Datasets dating back years, even decades, can be compared and searched to monitor changes, while patterns can be examined and used to build, for example, better forecasting models. Maps are created from Copernicus imagery, from which features and anomalies can be identified and statistical information extracted.
While all this information is essential to helping users meet their climate goals, it is particularly useful to the EU’s climate adaptation and mitigation policies – including those pertaining to extreme heatwaves.
Heatwaves are already responsible for a considerable number of deaths, a trend that is unfortunately expected to increase as temperatures continue to go up. “As average temperatures warm, extreme temperatures will also become warmer, leading to more frequent and warmer heatwaves,” Rachel White, an assistant professor at the University of British Columbia, told Horizon. “This is particularly concerning in regions that already experience high temperatures, such as southern Europe.”
According to White, the key to saving lives is the use of accurate and reliable weather prediction models that go well beyond standard weekly forecasts.
Here too, C3S can help.
Preparing for a hotter tomorrow
C3S provides users with quality-controlled data about the impact climate change will have on heatwave frequency and severity in the decades to come. “When the past is no longer a good predictor for the climate risks we face, having data about the future is key to preparing for the conditions that lie ahead, whether that future be days, months or even years ahead,” says C3S Director Carlo Buontempo.
As Buontempo explains, because C3S data focuses on climate, as opposed to weather, it is particularly useful for helping local authorities be more proactive – and less reactive – to climate-related risks. For example, today, national and local authorities depend on C3S’s heat stress predictions to implement heat-related action plans.
“Since the shocking death toll of the 2003 heatwave in southern Europe, many European countries have developed action plans that can be triggered when specific heat stress conditions are forecasted,” notes Buontempo.
These action plans can include things as simple as limiting outside activities and drinking plenty of fluids to actively monitoring at-risk populations. In the near future, city planners could use this same C3S data to reconsider the layout of cities and buildings and design green spaces that help mitigate heat-related risks to make cities more pleasant to live in – even in a hotter world.
“Not only does C3S data provide us with a better understanding of what the summer of the future may look like, it also gives us the opportunity to start preparing for that future today,” concludes Buontempo.
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