Europe’s record summer of heat and fires – visualised | Climate crisis
Europe has already endured a record amount of fire damage in 2022, as the continent has baked in extreme – and in some cases, unprecedented – high temperatures, Guardian analysis shows.
In July, fires hit several countries across Europe. While Londoners were shocked when dozens of properties were hit by fires in last week’s heatwave, firefighters in Portugal, Spain, France and Greece were all battling forest fires across tens of thousands of hectares.
These are part of a record-breaking fire season across Europe this year.
Data from Effis shows that as of 23 July, just over 515,000 hectares (1.27m acres) of land had been burned across EU countries. This is four times the average recorded since 2006, and is nearly twice the previous record seen across this time.
The scale of these fires can be seen in satellite data provided by Planet Labs. In La Teste-de-Buch, France, hundreds of hectares of forest burned as fires spread all the way to the ocean and nearby towns.
In Spain, rural areas in Salamanca experienced some of the most worrying fires, and these can also be seen in satellite imagery provided by Planet Labs.
Authorities said fires may have been started deliberately, although sun-baked, dry wooded hills were easily consumed once the fires started. The majority of the Iberian peninsula remains at extreme risk of fires after two heatwaves were registered since the start of the summer.
Guardian analysis of temperature data since 1980 from Visual Crossing, a commercial weather data provider, found that seven of 28 European capital cities, including London, Rome and Dublin, had temperatures reach 40-year highs for June, July or both.
London experienced its highest ever temperatures on 19 July. 40.2C was widely reported to have been recorded at Heathrow airport, but this figure remains provisional pending “assessment of the site and the equipment to ensure there are no anomalies with either”, according to a Met Office spokesperson. The figure of 39.8C in the Visual Crossing data still eclipses London’s previous July high of 36.1C, first reached in July 2019.
A further five capitals, including Paris and Madrid, came within 0.5C of previous monthly highest temperatures.
Though many EU capitals have so far escaped record-breaking temperatures this summer, wildfires have ravaged other areas of the countries. The extent of the fires points to the destructive effects of prolonged aberrant temperatures and dry conditions, regardless of whether temperature records are broken.
Scientists told the Guardian that the role of human-caused global heating in such hot weather appeared clear, and research shows that the chances of breaking 40C in the UK without it would be less than 0.1%.
Dr Friederike Otto, of Imperial College London, said 40C “would have been extremely unlikely or virtually impossible without human-caused climate change”.
Data from the Berkeley Earth Land/Ocean Temperature Record shows that recent years have seen record divergences from the average global temperature recorded between 1951 and 1980.
In 2016, global temperatures were 1.05C higher than this average – a record in the data that runs to 1850. The 13 hottest global temperatures in the data have all occurred since 2000.
Scientists have said 40C heat in the UK could occur every three years if emissions are not lowered.
The Met Office’s chief of science, Prof Stephen Belcher, said: “If we continue under a high emissions scenario, we could see temperatures like these every three years … The only way that we can stabilise the climate is by achieving net zero … soon.”