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  • Maria Chara Karypidou

A firy summer...

The summer of 2018 has been a “firy” summer, from many aspects…

During summer 2018, Europe experienced prolonged and intense heatwaves, that had a direct impact even on the vegetation and the land greenness, even as seen from some Sentinel-2 images [1] at the northern parts of Europe.

According to Copernicus Climate Change Services [2], Europe, for its biggest part, experienced temperatures greater than ~2 oC from the climatological mean.

The discussion about whether this was a direct impact of climate change, is a very widely “twitted” one. One of the dynamical reasons these warm conditions occurred in mainland and northern Europe, is a northward displacement of the jet stream [3], which allowed for tropical air masses to penetrate into much higher latitudes and allowed high pressure systems to get stuck over northern Europe. One further possible explanation of why this happened, could be that arctic sea ice extend was reduced [4, 5], due a sudden stratospheric warming event [6] that took place during late winter and early spring 2018 and that potentially contributed to the gradual decrease of the temperature gradient between the arctic and the tropics [7]. Of course, by no means this is a scientific statement, neither the attribution of such extreme events can be so easily discharged [8]. In fact, I would be very interested to read your opinion on this!

Similar temperature conditions occurred also during the summer of 1976 in northern Europe.

So a direct question is, could this northward shift of the the jet stream be attributed to climate change? Well, according to Woolings et al., 2018 [9] the answer would be that summer time blockings over Europe show a decreasing trend. But, climate change provides a much more heated background climate, which has a direct impact on the occurrence of heatwaves.

In fact, there are two really nice plots from NASA GISS [10], which compare June 1976 and June 2018, which in fact is a map of the shifted distribution of the extremes, as the IPCC figure above testifies.

Hence, while the northward shift of the jet stream could not be directly attributed as a direct effect of climate change, the possibility of these events happening increases in a warmer climate.

Which leads us forward, to studying what the potential impacts of climate change may be on a plethora of sectors, ranging from energy demand to biodiversity and from infrastructure to health impacts. And this is one of the reasons why climate sciences exist: to forewarn and forearm societies so that we do not need to proceed to managing the crisis of an unprecedented event, but we rather manage the risk of something happening, so that we can efficiently avoid a potential crisis. So basically, doing risk management, rather than crisis management.

But doing so, it means that there must be a motivation, which can go beyond financial revenue and requires that every life matters and matters equally, regardless of the socio-economic background.

And the sorrowful thing is that sometimes we are moved only by big numbers… Because we like to measure things and unless an event is figurative, we don’t pay much attention…

For instance, we become angry that 99 people lost their lives in the devastating fires in western Attica [11]. However, in a truly civilized society where there is an established sanctity for human life, even the loss of one life should be enough for action to take place.

So, my point, is that we are not missing on knowledge, know-how and scientific expertise, but we are missing on morals.

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