Incêndio em Portugal. Crédito: Micheal Held/Unsplash

Severe heat wave hits northern hemisphere causing dozens of deaths

Record temperatures in Japan, Europe and North America result in wildfires and affect the health of millions. Nasa says 2018 is already one of the warmest years in history

In the past weeks, summer in the northern hemisphere - June 21 to September 23 - has had soaring temperatures in Asia, Europe and North America. The stifling heat waves were responsible for droughts, water supply shortages, wildfires, problems in urban infrastructure and scores of deaths - Greece and Japan were affected the most.

Nasa Measurements points that 2018 is already one of the warmest years in history. Even before summer in the northern hemisphere, between March and May, the average temperature was 0.87 ºC higher than the planet's average between 1951 and 1980. If you consider the months of June and July alone, only 2016 and 2015 had higher temperatures than the ones registered this year.

Damages caused by the heat wave

Throughout Europe, high temperatures have been recorded and serious consequences suffered due to the intense heat waves. In Western Europe, Portugal was battered by a large wildfire in the southern mountain region of Monchique - due to excess smoke, over twenty people were taken to hospitals and two entire villages had to be evacuated. Thermometers reached 46 ºC in that area and also in Spain, where three people died from heatstroke.

France has been forced to shut down nuclear reactors to avoid excess water consumption and possible operating faults from overheating. Right on the border, Germany's average summer temperature is 3.6 degrees above the average recorded between 1961 and 1990. Up north, Holland had to close some roads as the heat melted the asphalt and Sweden had its warmest summer in the last 250 years.

However, no other European country suffered as badly as Greece. The lack of rainfall, dry vegetation and temperatures up to 47 ºC have caused 91 deaths until late July, and also entire forests ravaged by blazes. This is the most devastating summer in the country since 1900.

North America also suffered from wildfire in the province of Quebec, Canada. The damage was even greater in the United States: the blazes devastated an area of preserved forest as big as LA - in Palm Springs, the year's record high temperature reached 50 ºC.

And even with a state-of-the-art structure to face natural disasters, Japan's population is suffering with high temperatures. As the average age of many elderly citizens is quite high, the country's health care system is operating at its top capacity: over 70 thousand people have sought emergency care and around 140 Japanese people died from heatstroke.

Stifling heat wave results from global climate change

The last four years have been the warmest ever recorded by men and the forecast is that temperatures will keep increasing: according to this article published on Nature Magazine, in the next five years we'll face temperatures above normal - even higher than those previously calculated based on the consequences of global warming. The study also claims the oceans may suffer "a dramatic increase of up to 400%" of extreme warm events from 2018 to 2022.

“Global warming is an aggravating effect from heat waves”, explains Andrea Santos, executive secretary and researcher at the Brazilian Panel on Climate Change (Painel Brasileiro de Mudanças Climáticas - PBMC). "There is natural climate variation where cool or warm waves are normal. However, as a consequence of climate change, they tend to be more frequent, more intense and more severe," she concludes.

The more the temperatures rise around the globe, the more dangerous and unsustainable human actions are, according to the PBMC: excessive water consumption and deforestation, for example, bring more severe consequences. "And the poorest countries, like Greece, in the northern hemisphere, are the most vulnerable," explains Andrea Santos.

There are risks in the southern hemisphere as well. The city of São Paulo, for example, is going through a long period of dry weather, resulting from the change in rainfall patterns caused by climate change.

The conclusions reached by the group of British, French and Dutch scientists on Nature Magazine and the Brazilian researchers from PBMC show that it's critical to reach the goals set out by the Paris Agreement of 2015, which proposed a maximum increase of 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels in global temperature. The planet is currently 1.1 ºC warmer and carbon emission rates have increased again