By Owen Xu Li
According to scientists, the scorching heat that engulfed western Canada and the United States at the end of June would have been impossible without climate change and global warming. Researchers claim that the catastrophic heatwave was a once-in-a-1,000-year occurrence.
However, as the planet warms owing to climate change, extreme events like these will become more prevalent. The heatwaves would have been 150 times less likely if humanity had not altered the climate to the extent that it has.
Scientists are concerned that global warming, which is mostly due to the burning of fossil fuels, is now causing temperatures to rise faster than mathematical models indicate.
In recent years, climate scientists have become accustomed to heatwaves shattering records around the world. However, it was shocking when heat waves broke the previous national high-temperature record by more than 4 degrees Celsius in one go, as Canada did last week.
The previous national high-temperature record for Canada was 45 degrees Celsius, but the recent heat in Lytton, British Columbia, saw a temperature of 49.6 degrees Celsius recorded at its peak. This was just before a wildfire devastated the community.
Multiple cities in the US states of Oregon and Washington, as well as in western Canada, set new records high above 40 degrees Celsius. Hundreds of individuals died as a result of the high temperatures, with an upsurge in unexpected deaths and hospital visits for heat-related sickness. People have attributed the unusual and harsh nature of the heatwave to climate change since it began.
According to academics, it was nearly impossible for it to happen without human-caused warming. In just eight days, an international team of 27 climate researchers from the World Weather Attribution network analyzed the data.
The research has not yet been peer-reviewed, which is unsurprising considering the rapid timeframe. The researchers, on the other hand, employ well-established methodologies that have been published in peer-reviewed journals. They utilized 21 climate models to calculate how much climate change affects the amount of heat in the Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver areas. Then, they compared today’s climate to what the globe might be like without human-caused warming.
Sjoukje Philip, of the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute and the study’s lead author, says that his team concluded that a once-in-a-1000-year occurrence would have been at least 150 times rarer in the past.
Dr. Friederike Otto of the University of Oxford, one of the study’s co-authors, described what the researchers meant when they declared high heat would be absolutely impossible without climate change. She said that without the additional greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, in the statistics that we have access with our models, as well as statistical models based on observations, such an occurrence just does not occur.
According to the study, if the planet warms by 2 degrees Celsius, which might happen in approximately 20 years, the odds of a heatwave like last week’s drop from once every 1,000 years to once every 5-10 years.
Authors claim the temperatures observed were so severe that they were well outside the range of previous data. As a result, it’s difficult to say with certainty how unusual the heat dome occurrence was. The dramatic surge in peak temperatures reported in the region, according to scientists, could be due to two factors.
The first is that it is simply an exceptionally unusual occurrence exacerbated by climate change, which the report describes as “the statistical equivalent of extraordinarily terrible luck.” Another hypothesis is that the climate has reached a “threshold,” making heatwaves like those seen recently much more common.
Researchers have previously observed a gradual increase in heat extremes as the earth warmed. That perspective has been contradicted by their research of what happened in Canada. It’s possible that climate models’ estimates are underestimating the world’s potential for high temperatures.
Geert Jan van Oldenborgh of the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute said that they are far less convinced now than they were two weeks ago about how the climate affects heat waves.