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European Heat Waves

Context

The United Kingdom experienced its highest temperature ever recorded, surpassing 40°C. Temperatures in parts of France, Spain, and Portugal ranged from 42 to 46 degrees.

Relevance

GS Paper 3: Climate Change

Mains Question

Heat waves are among the most dangerous natural hazards, and their frequency and intensity will increase in the twenty-first century as a result of climate change. Discuss (250 Words).


Why in the news?

  • Dozens of towns and regions across Europe have been devastated by what has been described as a “heat apocalypse” this year.
  • Wildfires in southwestern France have destroyed 19,000 hectares of forest due to a combination of extreme heat and dry weather.

Heatwaves

  • Between March and June, India experiences heatwaves.
  • The IMD declares a heatwave event when the maximum (day) temperature in the plains exceeds 40 degrees Celsius.
  • The temperature over the hills is 30 degrees Celsius.

Heatwaves Occurrence

  • Heatwaves occur when high pressure aloft (3,000-7,600 metres) strengthens and persists over a region for several days to several weeks.
  • This is common in the summer (both in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres) because the jet stream ‘follows the sun.’
  • The high pressure area is located on the equator side of the jet stream, in the upper layers of the atmosphere.
  • Summer weather patterns change more slowly than winter weather patterns. As a result, the upper level high pressure moves slowly as well.
  • When pressure is high, the air subsides (sinks) toward the surface, warming and drying adiabatically, inhibiting convection and preventing cloud formation.
  • Cloud removal increases the amount of shortwave radiation reaching the surface.
  • Surface low pressure causes surface wind from lower latitudes to bring warm air, enhancing warming; alternatively, surface winds may blow from the hot continental interior towards the coastal zone, causing heat waves.

The Effects of Heat Waves

  • Heat Strokes: Extremely hot or humid conditions increase the risk of heat stroke or heat exhaustion.
  • Healthcare crisis: Extreme heat is also linked to an increase in hospitalizations and emergency room visits, an increase in deaths from cardio-respiratory and other diseases, mental health issues, poor pregnancy and birth outcomes, and so on.
  • Productivity loss: Extreme heat reduces worker productivity, particularly among the more than 1 billion workers who are regularly exposed to high temperatures.
  • Wildfire Risk: Heat domes act as fuel for wildfires, which destroy a lot of land area every year in countries like the United States.
  • Prevents Cloud Formation: The condition also prevents clouds from forming, allowing more sunlight to reach the ground.
  • Impact on Vegetation: Heat trapping can harm crops, dry out vegetation, and cause drought.
  • Increased Energy Demands: The sweltering heat wave raises energy demand, particularly for electricity, causing rates to rise.
  • Power Issues: Heat waves are frequently high-mortality disasters.
  • Infrastructure failure: Avoiding heat-related disasters is dependent on the electrical grid’s resilience, which can fail if electricity demand from air conditioning use exceeds supply.

Europe’s extreme heat waves

  • Scientists are nearly unanimous in their belief that the heat waves are the result of human-caused climate change.
  • Global temperatures have already risen by more than 1°C, and studies in the United Kingdom have shown that a one-degree increase in temperature increases the likelihood of the country experiencing 40°C by tenfold.
  • Rising global temperatures, which resulted in deviations from the norm of up to 15 degrees in Antarctica and more than 3 degrees in the north pole this year.

The major factor

  • In the case of the United States, the record temperatures are being linked to changes in the jet stream, which is a narrow band of westerly air currents that circulates several kilometres above the earth’s surface.
  • While a traditionally strong jet stream would bring cooler air from the northern Atlantic, the jet stream has weakened and split in recent years.
  • This has resulted in more intense and frequent heat waves across parts of the American continent.

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