Last month’s record-scorching temperatures did more than send Vancouver Island residents scrambling for the comforts of air-conditioned surroundings, they sounded the alarm with an international team of climate scientists.
Faron Anslow, a climatologist at the University of Victoria, called the findings of a study of the recent heatwave that sent the mercury soaring to 39.8 C at Victoria’s Gonzales weather station a wake-up call on the devastating impacts of climate change.
“This phenomenal event shattered previous heat records in B.C. and Canada and demanded immediate attention,” he said in a Q&A provided by UVic. “Our analysis questions whether the event is simply an extremely rare occurrence or if it represents some step-change in how the climate system is reacting to increases in greenhouse gas concentrations.”
Anslow, who works out of the Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium at UVic, said the study conducted by 27 researchers in Canada, the U.S., Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, France and the United Kingdom, found the heatwave would have been “virtually impossible” without the influence of human-caused climate change.
He said the analysis also showed climate change made the heatwave at least 150 times more likely to happen.
“We learned that in the present climate, the event was something that could have been expected once out of every 1,000 years. In the future we may see events like this once every five to 10 years,” said Anslow.
The study conducted through the World Weather Attribution group analyzed the observations and computer simulations to compare the climate as it is today, after about 1.2C of global warming since the late 1800s.
While Anslow said there are non-human drivers of climate change – such as Earth’s orbit, the variability of energy coming from the sun and volcanic eruptions – he called the evidence “pretty much indisputable” that extreme temperature events are a result of human-caused changes to the climate.
And according to Anslow, we better get used to more frequent heatwaves in the future.
“The event took us by surprise in that temperatures exceeded what we expected to see 40 to 60 years from now. That tells us that the event was extremely rare in any climatic setting. But we also know that when those 40 to 60 years pass, we will see events like this much more often and the extremely rare events will be even hotter.”
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