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‘Record-shattering’ heat becoming much more likely, says climate study

‘Record-shattering’ heat becoming much more likely, says climate study

More heatwaves even worse than those seen recently in north-west of America forecast in research

“Record-shattering” heatwaves, even worse than the one that recently hit north-west America, are set to become much more likely in future, according to research. The study is a stark new warning on the rapidly escalating risks the climate emergency poses to lives.

The shocking temperature extremes suffered in the Pacific north-west and in Australia 2019-2020 were “exactly what we are talking about”, said the scientists. But they said the world had yet to see anything close to the worst impacts possible, even under the global heating that had already happened.

The research found that highly populated regions in North America, Europe and China were where the record-shattering extremes are most likely to occur. One illustrative heatwave produced by the computer models used in the study showed some locations in mid-northern America having temperatures 18C higher than average.

Preparing for such unprecedented extremes was vital, said the scientists, because they could cause thousands of premature deaths, and measures taken to adapt to date had often been based only on previous heat records.

Scientists already know that heatwaves of the kind mostly seen today will become more common as the climate crisis unfolds. But heatwaves are usually analysed by comparing them with the past, which means the vast majority are only marginally hotter than before. This can give a false sense of a gradual rise in record temperatures.

The new computing modelling study instead looked for the first time at the highest margins by which week-long heatwave records could be broken in future.

It found that heatwaves that smash previous records by roughly 5C would become two to seven times more likely in the next three decades and three to 21 times more likely from 2051–2080, unless carbon emissions are immediately slashed.
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