Climate Change Powered the Mediterranean’s Unusual Heat Wave
that broiled parts of Algeria, Morocco, Portugal and Spain last week almost certainly would not have occurred without human-induced climate change, an international team of scientists said in . A mass of hot, dry air from the Sahara parked itself above the western Mediterranean for several days in late April, unleashing temperatures that are more typical of July or August in the region. Mainland Spain set an of 101.8 degrees Fahrenheit, or 38.8 Celsius, in the southern city of Cordoba. In Morocco, the mercury climbed to in Marrakesh, according to provisional data, very likely smashing that nations April record as well. A three-day stretch of such scorching heat in April is already quite rare for the region in the planets current climate, with just a 0.25 percent chance of occurring in any given year, according to the new analysis. But it would have been almost impossible in a world that hadnt been warmed by decades of carbon emissions, said Sjoukje Philip, a climate scientist at the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute and an author of the analysis. Because of climate change, last months hot spell was at least 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit warmer on average than a similarly improbable one would have been in preindustrial times, the scientists found. The Iberian Peninsula and North Africa have been grappling with drought for years. Scant rainfall in Morocco has harmed wheat yields and increased the nations imports. Food prices there are rising rapidly. Heat and poor rains last year in Spain, which is Europes biggest producer of olive oil. The is the highest its been in 26 years. Water scarcity has already had significant effects on livelihoods in the region, said Fatima Driouech, an environmental scientist at Mohammed VI Polytechnic University in Morocco and another author of the new analysis. And the future, unfortunately, is not expected to be better, she said. Extreme heat can also set the stage for devastating wildfires. Last year was since records began in 2000. Fires in 2022 burned more than 780,000 acres of land in Spain, the continents worst-affected nation, and 270,000 acres in Portugal. Climate scientists have no doubt that global warming is making severe heat more likely and more intense on every continent. But to determine precisely how big that influence is for any single weather episode, they need to perform what is called an attribution analysis. They use computer models to study the same event in what is effectively two alternate histories of the global climate: one that is responding to the effect of decades of greenhouse gas emissions, and one that isnt. Scientists have used this approach to examine not just heat waves, but , and , too. The analysis of Aprils heat was conducted by researchers associated with , a scientific initiative that investigates extreme weather events soon after they happen. The new analysis hasnt yet been peer reviewed or published in a scientific journal, though it relies on widely accepted methods. Weather forecasters worldwide are bracing for a big shift. For the first time in three years, the global climate pattern known as is expected to materialize, most likely later this year. It isnt yet clear how strong this El Nino will be or how long it might last. But in general, the phenomenon is associated with above-average global temperatures. Coming on top of the planets steady warming from the burning of fossil fuels, the development of El Nino could lead to more record-breaking temperatures in many places this year. is a climate reporter. He joined The Times in 2017 and was part of the team that won the 2021 Pulitzer Prize in public service for coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.