Chance of 40 Degree Celsius Days in UK ‘Rapidly Increasing’ Due to Climate Crisis
The chance that UK summer days could hit the 40 degree Celsius mark on the thermometer is on the rise, a new study from the country's Met Office Hadley Centre has found.
British summers currently only reach 40 degrees every 100 to 300 years. But the study, published in Nature Communications Tuesday, found that such temperatures could occur every 3.5 years if nothing is done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and curb the climate crisis.
"Climate change has already influenced the likelihood of temperature extremes in the UK. The chances of seeing 40°C days in the UK could be as much as 10 times more likely in the current climate than under a natural climate unaffected by human influence," lead author Dr. Nikolaos Christidis said in a Met Office press release. "The likelihood of exceeding 40°C anywhere in the UK in a given year has also been rapidly increasing, and, without curbing of greenhouse gas emissions, such extremes could be taking place every few years in the climate of 2100."
New research published today shows the chances of 40°C days in the UK are increasing rapidly due to #GlobalWarming… https://t.co/gNwrqnYPMA— Met Office (@Met Office)1593529311.0
To reach their conclusions, the researchers combined temperature measurements across the country with 16 different climate models, The Guardian explained. They found that reducing emissions made a big difference in lowering future temperatures. Under a medium-emissions scenario, in which emissions are reduced but not enough to honor the Paris agreement goal of limiting global warming to below two degrees, 40 degree days would occur every 15 years.
"This research shows human-caused climate change has set us on a course to see temperature extremes in the UK that would be highly unlikely under a 'natural' climate, although urgent action to reduce emissions now can significantly reduce the occurrence of extreme high temperatures in the UK in the future," coauthor and head of the Met Office National Climate Information Centre Dr. Mark McCarthy said in the press release.
The study also looked at the likelihood of other temperature extremes. Days 35 degrees or higher currently occur every five years on average but could happen nearly every other year by 2100 under a high-emissions scenario. The 40 and 35 degree days would be most common in the Southeast, but the North could see 30 degree days once per decade by 2100. They are now extremely rare in that region.
UK summers are already feeling the impacts of the climate crisis. The summer of 2018 was the joint hottest on record, and the country saw its highest recorded temperature of 38.7 in Cambridge during July 2019, The Guardian reported. The climate crisis has made heat waves in the country 30 more likely, and temperature extremes caused 3,400 early deaths between 2016 and 2019. These impacts will only worsen as temperatures rise, which is a big reason why the Met Office conducted the study, Christidis told AFP. He said he wanted to help the country plan better for extremes.
"Exceeding extreme temperature thresholds like the 40C in the UK would be accompanied by severe impacts — on public health, transport infrastructure," he told AFP.
However, on a global scale, the UK won't be feeling the heat as intensely as other places.
"Heatwaves are a real risk to life in the UK, especially if we do not begin modifying our homes, workplaces and hospitals to manage their expected overheating," University of Leeds professor Piers Forster, who was not involved in the study, told The Guardian. "However, we should note that in terms of heatwaves, the UK will get off lightly compared with most other nations. Heatwaves in the major crop-growing regions of the world could have more profound effects, both globally and for the UK."
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Clear-cutting a forest is relatively easy—just pick a tree and start chopping. But there are benefits to more sophisticated forest management. One technique—which involves repeatedly harvesting smaller trees every 30 or so years but leaving an upper story of larger trees for longer periods (60, 90, or 120 years)—ensures a steady supply of both firewood and construction timber.
A Pattern in the Rings<p>The <a href="https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/coppice-standards-0" target="_blank">coppice-with-standards</a> management practice produces a two-story forest, said <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Bernhard_Muigg" target="_blank">Bernhard Muigg</a>, a dendrochronologist at the University of Freiburg in Germany. "You have an upper story of single trees that are allowed to grow for several understory generations."</p><p>That arrangement imprints a characteristic tree ring pattern in a forest's upper story trees (the "standards"): thick rings indicative of heavy growth, which show up at regular intervals as the surrounding smaller trees are cut down. "The trees are growing faster," said Muigg. "You can really see it with your naked eye."</p><p>Muigg and his collaborators characterized that <a href="https://ltrr.arizona.edu/about/treerings" target="_blank">dendrochronological pattern</a> in 161 oak trees growing in central Germany, one of the few remaining sites in Europe with actively managed coppice-with-standards forests. They found up to nine cycles of heavy growth in the trees, the oldest of which was planted in 1761. The researchers then turned to a historical data set — more than 2,000 oak <a href="https://eos.org/articles/podcast-discovering-europes-history-through-its-timbers" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">timbers from buildings and archaeological sites</a> in Germany and France dating from between 300 and 2015 — to look for a similar pattern.</p>
A Gap of 500 Years<p>The team found wood with the characteristic coppice-with-standards tree ring pattern dating to as early as the 6th century. That was a surprise, Muigg and his colleagues concluded, because the first mention of this forest management practice in historical documents occurred only roughly 500 years later, in the 13th century.</p><p>It's probable that forest management practices were not well documented prior to the High Middle Ages (1000–1250), the researchers suggested. "Forests are mainly mentioned in the context of royal hunting interests or donations," said Muigg. Dendrochronological studies are particularly important because they can reveal information not captured by a sparse historical record, he added.</p><p>These results were <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-78933-8" target="_blank">published in December in <em>Scientific Reports</em></a>.</p><p>"It's nice to see the longevity and the history of coppice-with-standards," said <a href="https://www.teagasc.ie/contact/staff-directory/s/ian-short/" target="_blank">Ian Short</a>, a forestry researcher at Teagasc, the Agriculture and Food Development Authority in Ireland, not involved in the research. This technique is valuable because it promotes conservation and habitat biodiversity, Short said. "In the next 10 or 20 years, I think we'll see more coppice-with-standards coming back into production."</p><p>In the future, Muigg and his collaborators hope to analyze a larger sample of historic timbers to trace how the coppice-with-standards practice spread throughout Europe. It will be interesting to understand where this technique originated and how it propagated, said Muigg, and there are plenty of old pieces of wood waiting to be analyzed. "There [are] tons of dendrochronological data."</p><p><em><a href="mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Katherine Kornei</a> is a freelance science journalist covering Earth and space science. Her bylines frequently appear in Eos, Science, and The New York Times. Katherine holds a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.</em></p><p><em>This story originally appeared in <a href="https://eos.org/articles/tree-rings-reveal-how-ancient-forests-were-managed" target="_blank">Eos</a></em> <em>and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.</em></p>
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