June 11, 2023

The high temperatures of summer 2022 also hit the Arctic, causing faster ice cap melting

European Union, Copernicus Sentinel-2 imagery

Europe experienced its hottest summer on record in 2022 and its second warmest year ever, according to the European State of the Climate report. The annual report, released today, also reveals that temperatures across Europe are rising at twice the global average, with the continent having experienced 2.2°C of warming since pre-industrial times.

The figures, which come from multiple data sets including satellite, in situ measurements and numerical weather prediction models, fit into the wider global heating trend, with global data showing that the past eight years have been the warmest on record.

The probability of getting a warmer year, both globally and in Europe, is increasing every year due to rising levels of greenhouse gases, says Samantha Burgess at the Copernicus Climate Change Service, which compiled the data for the report.

“If you imagine a deck of cards where the black cards are cooler years and the red ones warmer years, then the global heating effect is like removing black cards from the deck every year and replacing them with red ones,” says Burgess.

No corner of Europe escaped unscathed from the extreme conditions of 2022. In western Europe, peak summer temperatures were as much as 10°C greater than typical and, for the first time on record, temperatures in the UK reached 40°C (104°F).

Across southern Europe, heatwave conditions resulted in a record number of days with very strong heat stress – temperatures that feel between 38°C and 46°C (100°F and 115°F).

The high temperatures and long sunshine hours resulted in surface ozone concentrations reaching potentially harmful levels across much of Europe. Average sea surface temperatures across Europe’s seas were the warmest on record in 2022 and about three-quarters of its lakes were warmer than average, says the report.

The unprecedented high temperatures and low rainfall – 10 per cent less than average – led to widespread drought, resulting in the second lowest river flow and the second largest wildfire burn area on record for Europe.

Effects on colder areas were also significant. A lack of snow along with the unusually warm summer caused record melting of Alpine glaciers, which lost more than 5 cubic kilometres of ice – equivalent to dropping in height by 3.5 metres.

It was a similar story in the Arctic, according to the report, with data showing that 2022 was the sixth warmest year on record there and the Svalbard region experienced its warmest summer on record, with some areas seeing temperatures 2.5°C above average. Meanwhile, exceptional September heatwaves across Greenland resulted in record-breaking ice sheet melt.

For both the Arctic and Europe, atmospheric circulation patterns played a key role in producing the extremes of 2022, with stable high-pressure conditions over western Europe generating warm, dry and sunny conditions. By autumn, a series of “rivers” in the atmosphere brought warmth and moisture to Greenland in September.

“The findings are all consistent with warming of climate due to the heating effect from our emissions of greenhouse gases,” says Richard Allan at the University of Reading, UK. “Land warms faster than ocean, but this can only explain some of the excessive warming seen in recent years over Europe, compared to other continents.”

Other drivers include Arctic warming and the loss of ice and snow in European mountain regions, which reduces the amount of solar energy reflected back to space, says Carlo Buontempo, director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service.

An El Niño climate pattern is anticipated to arrive later this year, which is likely to bring extreme global temperatures, but its link with European climate is relatively weak and it won’t necessarily drive up European temperatures.

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