5 Things to Know About Europe's Scorching Heatwave
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5 Things to Know About Europe’s Scorching Heatwave

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5 Things to Know About Europe’s Scorching Heatwave

5 Things to Know About Europe’s Scorching Heatwave

For the last few months, Europe’s smoldering heatwave has been wreaking havoc across the region, causing destructive wildfires, severe droughts, and thousands of deaths.

The EU’s record-breaking temperatures are making headlines around the world, as experts worry these extreme heatwaves could be the region’s new normal.

Given the volume of coverage on the topic, we sifted through dozens of articles and Twitter threads (so you don’t have to) and complied a list of the five major things to know about Europe’s smothering heatwave.

① High Temperatures are Shattering Records

Temperatures have been hitting all-time highs across the region.

On Monday, July 18, dozens of towns across France reported record-breaking temperatures of up to 42°C (107.6°F). In the same week, the UK experienced its hottest day on record at 40.3°C (104.5°F), breaking Britain’s previous record of (38.7°C) 101.7°F that was set back in 2019.

The heat in London was so unprecedented, the city’s national rail service issued a warning to the public, urging passengers to stay home and only travel if necessary. Some major rail lines were even closed for parts of the day on Tuesday, July 19.

② Europe is Feeling the Burn

The smoldering heat is fueling disastrous wildfires across the continent. As of July 20, an estimated 1,977 wildfires have blazed across the region in 2022—almost 3x the average amount, according to historical data from the European Forest Fire Information System.

Mediterranean countries have been hit particularly hard, with thousands of people in Portugal, Spain, and France evacuating their homes.

③ Going With the (Low) Flow

Along with the devastating wildfires, Europe’s heatwave is also causing a series of droughts across the region.

While most European cities have at least one river or lake crossing their urban landscape, these rivers and bodies of water are at risk of drying out. For instance in early July, Italy’s Po River was experiencing a drought so severe, that the country’s government issued a state of emergency in five different regions.

④ Energy Demands are Creating an Awkward Situation

Last year, Europe set ambitious goals to cut 55% of its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

But, in the wake of a global energy crisis, many European countries have put their green transition plans on hold as they turn to “dirtier” fuels like coal to keep their economies running business-as-usual. This timing is a tad awkward, considering the fact the region is currently ablaze with record-breaking temperatures that experts believe are human-induced.

The aforementioned “low flow” on many European rivers are also impacting hydroelectricity and even nuclear electricity generation, as too little water is available for cooling purposes.

On the bright side, at least Germany has made some progress in the realm of renewable energy—on July 17, the country generated a record-breaking amount of electricity from solar panels.

⑤ Climate Change is a Factor, but Heatwaves are Complicated

Experts claim that climate change is playing a part in these record-breaking heatwaves. Around the world, global surface temperatures have risen by about 1.0°C (1.8°F) since the 1850s, and scientists claim this temperature increase has been indisputably influenced by human activity.

However, there may be other factors that are influencing these extreme heatwaves. While the exact specifics are difficult to nail down due to the variable nature of the climate, a recent study published in Nature Communications found that Europe’s escalating heatwaves could be partly attributed to changing air currents, which are blowing hot air from North Africa to Europe.

The Bottom Line

At least 1,500 lives have been lost so far amidst this record-breaking heatwave. And since temperatures are expected to remain high across the region for at least another week, this figure will likely increase.

European homes are generally not well equipped for exceptionally high temperatures, and since the continent has the oldest median age of any region, its population is particularly susceptible to the negative effects of extreme weather.

Livelihoods are also being impacted by the extreme weather. Temperatures are drying out soil, which is creating poor growing conditions for corn farmers in France, Romania, and Spain, the region’s top corn producers.

Long story short—Europe’s heatwave is having disastrous effects on its economy and infrastructure, as well as the overall wellbeing of the region’s population.

Update: The map from cool.wx was revised to better reflect Europe’s present day borders.

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Space

All the Contents of the Universe, in One Graphic

We explore the ultimate frontier: the composition of the entire known universe, some of which are still being investigated today.

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The Composition of the Universe

All the Contents of the Universe, in One Graphic

Scientists agree that the universe consists of three distinct parts: everyday visible (or measurable) matter, and two theoretical components called dark matter and dark energy.

These last two are theoretical because they have yet to be directly measured—but even without a full understanding of these mysterious pieces to the puzzle, scientists can infer that the universe’s composition can be broken down as follows:

ComponentValue    
Dark energy68%
Dark matter27%
Free hydrogen and helium4%
Stars0.5%
Neutrinos0.3%
Heavy elements0.03%

Let’s look at each component in more detail.

Dark Energy

Dark energy is the theoretical substance that counteracts gravity and causes the rapid expansion of the universe. It is the largest part of the universe’s composition, permeating every corner of the cosmos and dictating how it behaves and how it will eventually end.

Dark Matter

Dark matter, on the other hand, has a restrictive force that works closely alongside gravity. It is a sort of “cosmic cement” responsible for holding the universe together. Despite avoiding direct measurement and remaining a mystery, scientists believe it makes up the second largest component of the universe.

Free Hydrogen and Helium

Free hydrogen and helium are elements that are free-floating in space. Despite being the lightest and most abundant elements in the universe, they make up roughly 4% of its total composition.

Stars, Neutrinos, and Heavy Elements

All other hydrogen and helium particles that are not free-floating in space exist in stars.

Stars are one of the most populous things we can see when we look up at the night sky, but they make up less than one percent—roughly 0.5%—of the cosmos.

Neutrinos are subatomic particles that are similar to electrons, but they are nearly weightless and carry no electrical charge. Although they erupt out of every nuclear reaction, they account for roughly 0.3% of the universe.

Heavy elements are all other elements aside from hydrogen and helium.

Elements form in a process called nucleosynthesis, which takes places within stars throughout their lifetimes and during their explosive deaths. Almost everything we see in our material universe is made up of these heavy elements, yet they make up the smallest portion of the universe: a measly 0.03%.

How Do We Measure the Universe?

In 2009, the European Space Agency (ESA) launched a space observatory called Planck to study the properties of the universe as a whole.

Its main task was to measure the afterglow of the explosive Big Bang that originated the universe 13.8 billion years ago. This afterglow is a special type of radiation called cosmic microwave background radiation (CMBR).

Temperature can tell scientists much about what exists in outer space. When investigating the “microwave sky”, researchers look for fluctuations (called anisotropy) in the temperature of CMBR. Instruments like Planck help reveal the extent of irregularities in CMBR’s temperature, and inform us of different components that make up the universe.

You can see below how the clarity of CMBR changes over time with multiple space missions and more sophisticated instrumentation.
CMBR Instruments

What Else is Out There?

Scientists are still working to understand the properties that make up dark energy and dark matter.

NASA is currently planning a 2027 launch of the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, an infrared telescope that will hopefully help us in measuring the effects of dark energy and dark matter for the first time.

As for what’s beyond the universe? Scientists aren’t sure.

There are hypotheses that there may be a larger “super universe” that contains us, or we may be a part of one “island” universe set apart from other island multiverses. Unfortunately we aren’t able to measure anything that far yet. Unravelling the mysteries of the deep cosmos, at least for now, remains a local endeavor.

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Green

Explained: The Relationship Between Climate Change and Wildfires

More carbon in the atmosphere is creating a hotter world—and gradually fueling both climate change and instances of wildfires.

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How Climate Change is Influencing Wildfires

Each year, thousands of wildfires burn through millions of acres of land around the world.

We’ve already seen the mass devastation that wildfires can bring, especially in places like Australia, Serbia, and California. But new research by the UN indicates that things might get even worse by the end of the century. By 2100, the frequency of wildfires could increase by up to 50%.

What’s causing this influx of wildfires around the world? Below, we dig into how climate change is impacting wildfires—and how in turn, wildfires are impacting climate change.

Climate Conditions That Support Wildfires

Before diving in, it’s worth going over the basics of wildfires, and how they get started in the first place. An area’s vulnerability to wildfires, also known as its fire regime, depends on three major conditions: its atmosphere, vegetation, and ignitions.

① Atmosphere

Atmosphere plays a big part in how sensitive an area is to wildfires. For instance, wind can increase oxygen supply in an area, which would help fuel a wildfire, and may even transfer embers to new locations.

② Vegetation

Vegetation is also a huge factor in whether or not an area is vulnerable to wildfires. A region with drier vegetation may catch fire more easily, and an area with more forest or shrubs provides more fuel for potential blazes.

③ Ignitions

An area that’s close to volcanic activity, or prone to lightning storms may be more susceptible to wildfires. However, human activity like campfires or faulty equipment can also trigger fires, so popular areas for camping or logging may be at higher risk as well.

While these conditions vary depending on the location, in general, fire regimes are being impacted by climate change, which is causing an influx in the duration and intensity of wildfires around the world.

The Fire Climate Feedback Loop

Since the 1850s, global surface temperatures have risen by about 1.0°C (1.8°F).

These increased surface temperatures have had far-reaching impacts on our climate—in the Northern Hemisphere, warmer temperatures have led to less snow, earlier arrival of spring, and ultimately longer, drier fire seasons.

These longer fire seasons have led to an influx of wildfires. But here’s the kicker—wildfires emit tons of carbon. In 2021, wildfires around the world emitted an estimated 1.76 billion tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere, which for context, is more than double the annual emissions from the entire country of Germany.

This carbon gets trapped in our atmosphere and contributes to rising surface temperatures. In other words, more carbon creates more wildfires—and more wildfires create more carbon.

Extreme Weather Events Are Rising In General

It’s not just wildfires that are growing in frequency and intensity because of climate change—droughts, heatwaves, and floods are also becoming more common around the world.

This year, temperatures reached all-time highs across Europe, which wrecked havoc across the continent, impacted infrastructure, and even took lives.

Experts warn that this may become the new normal. To help mitigate risk, governments, policymakers, and companies need to band together to create safeguards and establish proper preventative measures.

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