2003 Likely Europe's
Hottest in 500 Years
Paul Recer, AP Science Writer
- Last year's deadly summer in Europe probably was the hottest on the
continent in at least five centuries, according to researchers who
analyzed old records, soil cores and other evidence. More than 19,000
at the University of Bern, Switzerland, collected and analyzed temperature
data from all over Europe, including such climate measures as tree rings
from 1500. They found that the climate has been generally warming and last
summer was the most torrid of all.
you consider Europe as a whole, it was by far the hottest," said Jurg
Luterbacher, climatologist and the first author of a study appearing this
week in the journal Science.
said the study showed that European winters are also warmer now. The
average winter and annual temperatures during the three decades from 1973
to 2002 were the warmest of the half millennium, he said.
studies have linked rising average temperatures in North America and
elsewhere to global warming caused by the burning of fossil fuels, but
Luterbacher said his team did not attempt to make such a connection.
don't make any analysis of the human influence," he said. "We
don't attempt to determine the cause. We only report what we find."
climatologists, however, say the new study agrees with models that have
predicted a steady rise in global temperature as the result of greenhouse
gases released into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels and
Schneider, a climate expert at Stanford University and a prominent
advocate for the theory of human-caused global warming, said the
Luterbacher paper is consistent with what climate modelers have been
predicting for 20 years.
data is starting to line up showing that those projections were
correct," Schneider said. "We warned the world that this was
likely to happen because we believed the theory, but couldn't actually
prove it was happening. Now the data is coming in."
the study, Luterbacher and his team analyzed the temperature history of
Europe starting in 1500 to the present. For the earliest part of the half
millennium, the figures are estimates based on proxy measures, such as
tree rings and soil cores. But after about 1750, he said, instrumented
readings became generally available throughout Europe.
the 500 years, there were trends both toward cool and toward hot. The
second hottest summer in the period was in 1757. That was followed by a
cooling trend that continued until early in the 20th century. The summer
of 1902, for instance, was the coolest of the entire record.
in 1977, the record shows "an exceptionally strong, unprecedented
warming," the researchers report, with average temperatures rising at
the rate of about 0.36 degrees per decade.
came last summer.
summer of 2003 exceeded 1901 to 1995 European summer temperatures by
around 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit)," the study said.
"Taking into account the uncertainties (in the study method), it
appears that the summer of 2003 was very likely warmer than any other
summer back to 1500."
temperatures were recorded in most of the major cities of Europe last
summer, with many readings over 100 degrees. Authorities have attributed
thousands of deaths to the excess heat, making the heat wave one of the
deadliest weather phenomena in the past century.
France, the toll was estimated at about 14,802 dead. About 2,000 more than
normal died in August in England and Wales. On Aug. 11, Britain's hottest
day on record, there were 363 more deaths than average and the temperature
reading reached 101.3 in Brogdale in southeastern England.
in Europe, based on official numbers collected by The Associated Press,
there were more than 19,000 excess deaths in the summer months. France was
hardest hit, but the average number of summer deaths increased by 4,175 in
Italy, 1,300 in Portugal and more than 1,000 in the Netherlands.
intense heat also wilted crops, caused wildfires and continued a
centurylong trend of melting the continent's glaciers.
said some mountain glaciers have shrunk by 50 percent in the past century
in Europe, and some ice fields lost 10 percent of their mass last summer
addition, he said, the long trend of warming temperatures is now melting
the high altitude permafrost — the soil that usually remains frozen
year-round — and that some buildings, bridges and roadways are now
threatened with unstable foundations.
it may get worse, said Luterbacher. He said some studies forecast that if
the warming trend continues, Europe may have summers like 2003 every other
year starting late in this century.