Drought In Europe The Worst For Nearly 2,000 Years Say Scientists

Researchers led by Cambridge University analysed tree rings to uncover new data suggesting recent heatwaves are the extreme of all that came before in the last 2,000 years.

Drought-hit Europe from 2015 onwards is the worst the continent has seen for 2,000 years researchers at Cambridge University have said in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Professor Ulf Buntgen, lead researcher of the study said in a statement: “We’re all aware of the cluster of exceptionally hot and dry summers we’ve had over the past few years, but we needed precise reconstructions of historical conditions to see how these recent extremes compare to previous years,” said first author Professor Ulf Büntgen from Cambridge’s Department of Geography, who is also affiliated with CzechGlobe Centre in Brno, Czech Republic. “Our results show that what we have experienced over the past five summers is extraordinary for central Europe, in terms of how dry it has been consecutively.”

Samples were taken from European oak trees dating back approximately 2,100 years measured by Buntgen and colleagues in the Czech Republic and Germany using 27,000 ratios.

“Generally, our understanding is worse the further back we go back in time, as datasets looking at past drought conditions are rare,” said Büntgen, who is a specialist in dendrochronology, the study of data from tree-ring growth. “However, insights before medieval times are particularly vital, because they enable us to get a more complete picture of past drought variations, which were essential for the functioning and productivity of ecosystems and societies.”

The hottest years on record have all been within the last 5 years with 2016 and 2020 tied as the warmest. Heathrow reached a scorching 37.8c on Friday 31st July 2020. Increasing temperatures have caused worldwide health and ecology issues including plant deprivation that have stressed crops and prompted farmers to destroy their own. Climate change is the most likely cause as temperatures ascend and co2 continues to trap heat.

Co-author Professor Jan Esper from the University of Mainz, Germany said: “These tree-ring stable isotopes give us a far more accurate archive to reconstruct hydroclimate conditions in temperate areas, where conventional tree-ring studies often fail.”

Photo: Alexander Gerst