More heat waves in Western Europe due to changing jet stream

Changes in the jet stream over Eurasia, large air currents at an altitude of five to ten kilometers, play an important role in increasing the number of heat waves in Europe. This is the result of a new study by an international research team from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Research, and published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications. Scientists rely on observations from the past forty years.

Lawrence Turksource: BELGA

The researchers found that in Europe, especially in Western Europe, the number of heat waves increased three to four times faster than in the rest of the northern intermediate belt, as in the United States or Canada. These extremes are associated with periods when the jet stream splits into two branches and thus forms a double jet stream, periods of which become longer and longer. The report adds that the longer twin planes are adding to the overall temperature rise caused by human-caused global warming and leading to more intense heat waves.

Nearly one hundred percent of the heat wave trends in Western Europe, and about thirty percent throughout Europe, can be explained by this longer double jet stream. Efi Rousi, lead author of the study, notes in a press release that weather systems in Western Europe typically originate in the Atlantic Ocean and have a cooling effect. “But with a twin jet stream, weather systems drift north and continuous heat waves could develop over Western Europe,” Rossi says. In other European regions, such as the Mediterranean, other mechanisms are at work, and it is dry soils that promote long heat waves.

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North warming

Of course, summer heat waves are not a new phenomenon in Europe. What is new is that periods of heat in Europe occur more frequently and become more severe. “We expect it to get worse,” Rossi said.

The researchers say one possible explanation for why the twin jet stream lasts longer is warming in the far north, such as the land masses in Siberia, northern Canada and Alaska. “While more research is needed on this topic, one thing is clear: The twin jet stream and its increased duration are key to understanding the current and future risks of heat waves in Western Europe,” Rossi says.

Denton Watson

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