2003 Likely Europe's Hottest in 500 Years
By PAUL RECER
The Associated Press
Thursday, March 4, 2004; 2:33 PM
WASHINGTON - Last year's deadly summer in Europe probably was the hottest on the continent in at least five centuries, according to researchers who analyzed ancient temperature records. More than 19,000 people died.
Researchers at the University of Bern, Switzerland, collected and analyzed temperature data from all over Europe, including such climate measures as tree rings from 1500. They found that the climate has been generally warming and last summer was the most torrid of all.
"When you consider Europe as a whole, it was by far the hottest," said Jurg Luterbacher, climatologist and the first author of a study appearing this week in the journal Science.
Luterbacher said the study showed that European winters are also warmer now. The average winter and annual temperatures during the three decades from 1973 to 2002 were the warmest of the half millennium, he said.
Some studies have linked rising average temperatures in North America and elsewhere to global warming caused by the burning of fossil fuels, but Luterbacher said his team did not attempt to make such a connection.
"We don't make any analysis of the human influence," he said. "We don't attempt to determine the cause. We only report what we find."
Other climatologists, however, say the new study agrees with models that have predicted a steady rise in global temperature as the result of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels and other sources.
Stephen Schneider, a climate expert at Stanford University and a prominent advocate for human-caused global warming, said the Luterbacher paper is consistent with what climate modelers have been predicting for 20 years.
"The data is starting to line up showing that those projections were correct," Schneider said. "We warned the world that this was likely to happen because we believed the theory, but couldn't actually prove it was happening. Now the data is coming in."
In the study, Luterbacher and his team analyzed the temperature history of Europe starting in 1500 to the present. For the earliest part of the half millennium, the figures are estimates based on proxy measures, such as tree rings and soil cores. But after about 1750, he said, instrumented readings became generally available throughout Europe.
During the 500 years, there were trends both toward cool and toward hot. The second hottest summer in the period was in 1757. That was followed by a cooling trend that continued until early in the 20th century. The summer of 1902, for instance, was the coolest of the entire record.
Starting in 1977, the record shows "an exceptionally strong, unprecedented warming," the researchers report, with average temperatures rising at the rate of about 0.36 degrees per decade.
Then came last summer.
"The summer of 2003 exceeded 1901 to 1995 European summer temperatures by around 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit)," the study said. "Taking into account the uncertainties (in the study method), it appears that the summer of 2003 was very likely warmer than any other summer back to 1500."
© 2004 The Associated Press