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Rapid increase in the risk of extreme summer heat in Eastern China


The summer of 2013 was the hottest on record in Eastern China. Severe extended heatwaves affected the most populous and economically developed part of China and caused substantial economic and societal impacts1. The estimated direct economic losses from the accompanying drought alone total 59 billion RMB (ref. 2). Summer (June–August) mean temperature in the region has increased by 0.82 °C since reliable observations were established in the 1950s, with the five hottest summers all occurring in the twenty-first century. It is challenging to attribute extreme events to causes3,4,5,6. Nevertheless, quantifying the causes of such extreme summer heat and projecting its future likelihood is necessary to develop climate adaptation strategies7. We estimate that anthropogenic influence has caused a more than 60-fold increase in the likelihood of the extreme warm 2013 summer since the early 1950s, and project that similarly hot summers will become even more frequent in the future, with fully 50% of summers being hotter than the 2013 summer in two decades even under the moderate RCP4.5 emissions scenario. Without adaptation to reduce vulnerability to the effects of extreme heat, this would imply a rapid increase in risks from extreme summer heat to Eastern China.

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Figure 1: Relationship between the number of heatwave days and summer mean temperature.
Figure 2: Observed and simulated mean temperature in Eastern China.
Figure 3: Scaling factors and attributable warming.
Figure 4: Frequency of extreme hot summer recurrence.


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We thank G. Flato and S. Kharin for their comments on an early draft. Y.S., L.S., T.H., H.Y. and G.R. are supported by China funding agencies through multiple grants: 2012CB955902, GYHY201406020, 2012CB417205, CCSF201342 and GYHY201206012. We acknowledge the Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison and the World Climate Research Programme’s Working Group on Coupled Modelling for their roles in making the WCRP CMIP multi-model data sets available.

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X.Z. and Y.S. designed the analysis. H.W., Y.S., T.H. and H.Y. conducted the analysis. Y.S. and X.Z. wrote the initial draft. F.W.Z. and L.S. helped with the analysis and edited the manuscript. G.R. identified the rural stations for the estimation of urbanization effects in temperature and helped in the analysis and interpretation of urbanization effects.

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Correspondence to Xuebin Zhang.

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Sun, Y., Zhang, X., Zwiers, F. et al. Rapid increase in the risk of extreme summer heat in Eastern China. Nature Clim Change 4, 1082–1085 (2014).

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