“When you look at, say, the 20th century, there were [past] periods that were at least comparable in warmth to the 20th century. But even with that sort of enhanced variability of the last 2,000 [years], these last years really stand out still as a period of warmth that is unmatched.”
—Jason Smerdon, associate research professor at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
The whole planet is warming. Most of my posts relate to what’s happening in North America, but don’t forget that my continent makes up less than five percent of our planet’s surface area. It’s about time we looked at what’s happening across the pond these days.
Turns out that 2015 was the hottest year globally that we’ve ever recorded. Madrid and much of Germany broke all-time heat records and Sweden reached close to 90 degrees Fahrenheit last summer which is practically unheard of, although I guess no surprise given that last year was the hottest year globally on record.
A new study published recently in Environmental Research Letters states that we’ve likely underestimated just how much of an aberration European summers are now compared to the past. Some people can too easily chalk it up to simply “another hot year,” or perhaps blame it on the fact that we’ve had an El Niño contributing. But looking back over the last 2000 years, the study found that the past three decades were warmer than any other 30-year period since before Christ was born.
The study was completed by the international Euro-Med2k Working Group. It used tree-ring data and included records from ten different European sites. More than 40 researchers were involved and generated climate models that helped to reconstruct how Europe’s climate has changed over the last two millennia. Some of their findings include:
- weather patterns have generally gone from unusually cold to unusually warm over the last few centuries without an obvious external explanation
- the mid-13th century was cool in northeastern Europe but still warm in southwestern regions
- there was an unusually cold period in the late 16th and early 17th century that affected more than half of Europe
According to Jason Smerdon, one of the authors and an associate research professor at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory:
When you look at, say, the 20th century, there were [past] periods that were at least comparable in warmth to the 20th century. But even with that sort of enhanced variability of the last 2,000 [years], these last years really stand out still as a period of warmth that is unmatched.
It’s important to appreciate that there will always be some degree of uncertainty when it comes to paleoclimatology, in part because evidence based on tree-ring data becomes more sparse the further back in time you look. But studies like this help to explain that natural causes (such as increased solar radiation or changes in Earth’s orbit) for the more recent exceptional warming that Europe has experienced are pretty much off the table.
In other words the recent accelerated warming our planet has been witnessing is due to our human contributions, mostly through our greenhouse gas emissions. In fact in another study published last week as well (this one in Scientific Reports), researchers found that the recent record temperatures Earth has been experiencing are almost impossible to be anything but our fault.