(ORDO NEWS) — The study, led by the University of Bristol, also shows that heatwaves are projected to worsen as climate change worsens in the future.
Western North America experienced a record heat wave last summer, with a Canadian record high of 49.6°C on June 29 in Lytton, British Columbia, up 4.6°C from the previous peak.
The new results, published today in the journal Science Advances, have identified five other heatwaves around the world that were even stronger but have been largely unreported.
Lead author of the study, climatologist Dr Vicki Thompson of the University of Bristol, said: “The recent heat wave in Canada and the US has shocked the world.
However, we have shown that even more extreme events have been observed over the past few decades. Using climate models, we also found that that extreme heat events are likely to increase in the coming century – at the same rate as the local average temperature.”
Heatwaves are one of the most destructive extreme weather events. A heat wave in western North America was the deadliest weather event in Canadian history, resulting in hundreds of deaths. The associated raging wildfires have also led to extensive damage to infrastructure and loss of crops.
However, a study that calculated how extreme heatwaves were in relation to local temperatures found that the three hottest regions on record were in Southeast Asia in April 1998, when temperatures reached 32.8°C in Brazil. in November 1985, when the peak temperature was 36.5°C, and in the southern United States in July 1980, when the temperature rose to 38.4°C.
Dr Vicki Thompson of the University’s Cabot Environment Institute said: “The heat wave in western North America will be remembered for its wide ranging devastation. However, this study reveals several more significant meteorological extremes in recent decades, some of which have gone largely unnoticed, likely due to that they occurred in poorer countries.
It is important to assess the severity of heatwaves in terms of local temperature variability, as both people and natural ecosystems adapt to it, so in regions with less variability, a smaller absolute extreme may have more harmful effects.”
The team of scientists also used sophisticated climate model predictions to predict heat wave trends for the remainder of this century. Modeling has shown that the level of intensity of heat waves will increase in line with the increase in global temperature.
While the highest local temperatures do not necessarily cause the greatest impacts, they are often linked. A better understanding of climate extremes and where they occur can help prioritize responses in the most vulnerable regions.
Study co-author Professor Dann Mitchell, professor of climatology at the University of Bristol, said: “Climate change is one of the greatest global health challenges of our time, and we have shown that many heatwaves outside of developed countries go virtually unnoticed.
At the country level, the burden of heat-related mortality can number in the thousands, and countries with temperatures outside the normal range are the most susceptible to these shocks.”
In recognition of the dangerous impacts of climate change and a clear commitment to help address the issue, in 2019 the University of Bristol became the first UK university to declare a climate emergency.
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