MIT NEWS OFFICE 3Q: Why Europe is so vulnerable to heat waves David L. Chandler Tuesday, October 11, 2022

This year saw high-temperature records shattered across much of Europe, as crops withered in the fields due to widespread drought. Is this a harbinger of things to come as the Earth’s climate steadily warms up?

Elfatih Eltahir, MIT professor of civil and environmental engineering and H. M. King Bhumibol Professor of Hydrology and Climate, and former doctoral student Alexandre Tuel PhD ’20 recently published a piece in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists describing how their research helps explain this anomalous European weather. The findings are based in part on analyses described in their book “Future Climate of the Mediterranean and Europe,” published earlier this year. MIT News asked the two authors to describe the dynamics behind these extreme weather events.

Q: Was the European heat wave this summer anticipated based on existing climate models?

Eltahir: Climate models project increasingly dry summers over Europe. This is especially true for the second half of the 21st century, and for southern Europe. Extreme dryness is often associated with hot conditions and heat waves, since any reduction in evaporation heats the soil and the air above it. In general, models agree in making such projections about European summers. However, understanding the physical mechanisms responsible for these projections is an active area of research.