Heatwave model shows it is hotter in more places, more often

Statistical analysis of European weather data over the last century reveals that the spatial extent and frequency of heatwaves across Europe is increasing.

© 2021 KAUST; Morgan Bennett Smith.

Using a 100-year observational dataset and the latest techniques for modeling climate extremes has revealed the evolving dynamics of heatwaves across Europe under the influence of climate change.

Heatwaves can have catastrophic impacts on humans, settlements and the environment. They can cause illness or death, particularly for the frail or elderly, and trigger wildfires that destroy property and large tracts of wilderness.

Understanding the behavior of such extreme temperature events over space and time is important for planning and managing the present and future risk. However, most modeling to predict future heatwaves relies on simulation outputs from climate models, not direct observations, and uses inflexible models that may not accurately capture the dependence relationship among spatially associated locations under extreme conditions.

Raphaël Huser and Peng Zhong from KAUST’s Extreme Statistics Research Group, in collaboration with Thomas Opitz from France’s National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment, have now developed a modeling approach that uses observational records to more accurately tease out the dynamics of extreme heat events.

“Our group is interested in building mathematically sound models to assess the risk associated with climate change,” says Zhong. “In this study, we looked specifically at the impact of climate change on heatwaves in Europe and developed a model to assess the spatial extent of heatwaves by flexibly modeling and estimating their time-varying dependence strength.”

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