Temperature extremes in Europe
Justification for indicator selection
As seen by the public, climate change manifests itself most clearly through changes in the frequency of weather extremes and their impacts. Nearly all adaptation measures relate to changes in climate extremes. Extreme temperature events may lead to heat waves and intensive and long-lasting droughts, having, in turn, many impacts on natural ecosystems and society (e.g. agriculture, public health).
The time series for studying temperature extremes are based on daily data. More than 50-year of European time-series data allow detailed assessment of extreme events.
The heat wave of summer 2003
Much of Europe was affected by a heat wave during the summer of 2003 (June, July and August). It is estimated that this was the hottest summer since at least 1500 (Luterbacher et al., 2004). Seasonal temperatures were the highest on record in Germany, Switzerland, France and Spain (Figure 3). Average summer (June-August) temperatures were far above the long-term mean, by up to five standard deviations, implying that this was an extremely unlikely event under current climatic conditions (Schar and Jendritzky, 2004). Hot summers like 2003 may, however, become much more frequent during the second part of the 21st century (Beniston, 2007; Dankers and Hiederer, 2008).
The 2003 heat wave was associated with a particular air pressure field pattern over Europe, leading to an advection of hot air from the south which reinforced the strength and persistence of the heat waves. Nearly all radiation from the sun was converted to heat because of the soil and vegetation dryness. At many locations, day-time temperatures rose to more than 40 oC. In the European Alps, the average thickness loss of glaciers reached about 3 m water equivalent, nearly twice as much as during the previous record year of 1998 (WMO, 2004). Annual precipitation deficits up to 300 mm caused droughts in many areas which resulted in reduced agricultural production, more extensive forest fires (Portugal), and record low levels of many major rivers (e.g. Po, Rhine, Loire and Danube). In all the affected countries together, more than 70 000 additional deaths were related to the 2003 heat waves.
- References Beniston, M., 2007. Linking extreme climate events and economic impacts: Examples from the Swiss Alps. Energy Policy 35: 5384-5392. Beniston, M.; Stephenson, D. B.; Christensen, O. B.; Ferro, C. A. T.; Frei, C.; Goyette, S.; Halsnaes, K.; Holt, T.; Jylhü, K.; Koffi, B.; Palutikoff, J.; Schöll, R.; Semmler, T. and Woth, K., 2007. Future extreme events in European climate: An exploration of regional climate model projections. Climatic Change 81: 71-95. Dankers, R. and Hiederer, R., 2008. Extreme Temperatures and Precipitation in Europe: Analysis of a High-Resolution Climate Change Scenario. EUR 23291 EN. Office for Official Publications of the European Communities Luxembourg. 66 pp. Della-Marta, P. M.; Haylock, M. R.; Luterbacher, J. and Wanner, H., 2007. Doubled length of western European summer heat waves since 1880. Journal of Geophysical Research 112, D15103, DOI:10.1029/2007JD008510. Halsnæs, K.; Kühl, J.; Olesen, J. E., 2007. Turning climate change information into economic and health impacts. Climatic Change 81: 145-162. IPCC, 2007a. Cimate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Solomon, S.; Qin, D.; Manning, M.; Chen, Z.; Marquis, M.; Averyt, K. B.; Tignor M. and Miller H. L. (eds.), Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK. IPCC, 2007b. Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Parry, M. L.; Canziani, O. F.; Palutikof, J. P.; van der Linden, P. J. and Hanson, C. E. (eds.), Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK. Kjellström, E.; Bärring, L.; Jacob, D.; Jones, R.; Lenderink, G. and Schär, C., 2007. Variability in daily maximum and minimum temperatures: recent and future changes over Europe. Climatic Change 81: 249- 65. Klein Tank, A. M. G.; Wijngaard J. B. et al., 2002. Daily dataset of 20th-century surface air temperature and precipitation series for the European Climate Assessment. International Journal of Climatology 22: 1441- 453. Luterbacher, J.; Dietrich, D.; Xoplaki, E.; Grosjean, M.; Wanner, H., 2004. European seasonal and annual temperature variability, trends, and extremes since 1500. Science 303: 1499-1503. Schär, C.; Vidale, P. L.; Lüthi, D.; Frei, C.; Häberli, C.; Liniger, M. A. and Appenzeller, C., 2004. The role of increasing temperature variability in European summer heatwaves. Nature 427: 332-336. Schär, C. and Jendritzky, G., 2004. Hot news from summer 2003. Nature 432: 559-560. Schichtel, B. A. and Husar, R. B., 2001. Eastern North American transport climatology during high- and ow-ozone days. Atmospheric Environment 35: 1029-1038. Sillmann, J. and Roeckner, E., 2008. Indices for extreme events in projections of anthropogenic climate change. Climatic Change 86 (1-2): 83-104. Tebaldi, C.; Hayhoe, K.; Arblaster, J. M. and Meehl, G. A., 2006. Going to the extremes: an intercomparison of model-simulated historical and future changes in extreme events. Climatic Change 79: 185-211. WMO, 2004. World Meteorological Organization statement on the status of global climate in 2003. WMO publications, Geneva, 12 pp.
- Observed changes in warm spells and frost days indices 1976-2006
- Modelled number of tropical nights over Europe during summer (June-August) 1961-1990 and 2071-2100
Policy context and targets
In April 2009 the European Commission presented a White Paper on the framework for adaptation policies and measures to reduce the European Union's vulnerability to the impacts of climate change. The aim is to increase the resilience to climate change of health, property and the productive functions of land, inter alia by improving the management of water resources and ecosystems. More knowledge is needed on climate impact and vulnerability but a considerable amount of information and research already exists which can be shared better through a proposed Clearing House Mechanism. The White Paper stresses the need to mainstream adaptation into existing and new EU policies. A number of Member States have already taken action and several have prepared national adaptation plans. The EU is also developing actions to enhance and finance adaptation in developing countries as part of a new post-2012 global climate agreement expected in Copenhagen (Dec. 2009). For more information see: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/climat/adaptation/index_en.htm
No targets have been specified
Related policy documents
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Key policy question
Methodology for indicator calculation
Methodology for gap filling
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Responsibility and ownership
EEA Contact InfoRicardo FERNANDEZ BAYON
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This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe's environment.
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