The recent European mega-heatwaves of 2003 and 2010 broke temperature records across Europe1,2,3,4,5. Although events of this magnitude were unprecedented from a historical perspective, they are expected to become common by the end of the century6,7. However, our understanding of extreme heatwave events is limited and their representation in climate models remains imperfect8. Here we investigate the physical processes underlying recent mega-heatwaves using satellite and balloon measurements of land and atmospheric conditions from the summers of 2003 in France and 2010 in Russia, in combination with a soil–water–atmosphere model. We find that, in both events, persistent atmospheric pressure patterns induced land–atmosphere feedbacks that led to extreme temperatures. During daytime, heat was supplied by large-scale horizontal advection, warming of an increasingly desiccated land surface and enhanced entrainment of warm air into the atmospheric boundary layer. Overnight, the heat generated during the day was preserved in an anomalous kilometres-deep atmospheric layer located several hundred metres above the surface, available to re-enter the atmospheric boundary layer during the next diurnal cycle. This resulted in a progressive accumulation of heat over several days, which enhanced soil desiccation and led to further escalation in air temperatures. Our findings suggest that the extreme temperatures in mega-heatwaves can be explained by the combined multi-day memory of the land surface and the atmospheric boundary layer.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution
Subscribe to this journal
Receive 12 print issues and online access
$259.00 per year
only $21.58 per issue
Rent or buy this article
Prices vary by article type
Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout
Similar content being viewed by others
Barriopedro, D., Fischer, E. M., Luterbacher, J., Trigo, R. M. & García-Herrera, R. The hot summer of 2010: Redrawing the temperature record map of Europe. Science 332, 220–224 (2011).
Dole, R. et al. Was there a basis for anticipating the 2010 Russian heat wave? Geophys. Res. Lett. 38, L06702 (2011).
Coumou, D. & Rahmstorf, S. A decade of weather extremes. Nature Clim. Change 2, 491–496 (2012).
Trenberth, K. E. & Fasullo, J. T. Climate extremes and climate change: The Russian heat wave and other climate extremes of 2010. J. Geophys. Res. 117, D17103 (2012).
García-Herrera, R., Díaz, J., Trigo, R. M., Luterbacher, J. & Fischer, E. M. A review of the European summer heat wave of 2003. Crit. Rev. Env. Sci. Tec. 40, 267–306 (2010).
Fischer, E. M. & Schär, C. Consistent geographical patterns of changes in high-impact European heatwaves. Nature Geosci. 3, 398–403 (2010).
Schär, C. et al. The role of increasing temperature variability in European summer heatwaves. Nature 427, 332–336 (2004).
Vautard, R. et al. The simulation of European heat waves from an ensemble of regional climate models within the EURO–CORDEX project. Clim. Dynam. 41, 2555–2575 (2013).
Fischer, E. M., Seneviratne, S. I., Vidale, P. L., Lüthi, D. & Schär, C. Soil moisture–atmosphere interactions during the 2003 European summer heat wave. J. Clim. 20, 5081–5099 (2007).
Miralles, D. G., van den Berg, M., Teuling, A. J. & De Jeu, R. A. M. Soil moisture–temperature coupling: A multiscale observational analysis. Geophys. Res. Lett. 39, L21707 (2012).
Teuling, A. J. et al. Contrasting response of European forest and grassland energy exchange to heatwaves. Nature Geosci. 3, 722–727 (2010).
Quesada, B., Vautard, R., Yiou, P., Hirschi, M. & Seneviratne, S. I. Asymmetric European summer heat predictability from wet and dry southern winters and springs. Nature Clim. Change 2, 736–741 (2012).
Meehl, G. A. & Tebaldi, C. More intense, more frequent, and longer lasting heat waves in the 21st century. Science 305, 994–997 (2004).
Mueller, B. & Seneviratne, S. I. Hot days induced by precipitation deficits at the global scale. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 109, 12398–12403 (2012).
Seneviratne, S. I. et al. Investigating soil moisture–climate interactions in a changing climate: A review. Earth Sci. Rev. 99, 125–161 (2010).
Seneviratne, S. I., Lüthi, D., Litschi, M. & Schär, C. Land–atmosphere coupling and climate change in Europe. Nature 443, 205–209 (2006).
Hirschi, M. et al. Observational evidence for soil-moisture impact on hot extremes in southeastern Europe. Nature Geosci. 4, 17–21 (2011).
Fischer, E. M., Seneviratne, S. I., Lüthi, D. & Schär, C. Contribution of land–atmosphere coupling to recent European summer heat waves. Geophys. Res. Lett. 34, L06707 (2007).
Dee, D. P. et al. The ERA-Interim reanalysis: Configuration and performance of the data assimilation system. Quart. J. R. Meteorol. Soc. 137, 553–597 (2011).
Miralles, D. G. et al. Global land-surface evaporation estimated from satellite-based observations. Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci. 15, 453–469 (2011).
Hoinka, K. P. & Castro, M. D. The Iberian Peninsula thermal low. Quart J. R. Meteorol. Soc. 129, 1491–1511 (2006).
Santanello, J. A. Jr, Friedl, M. A. & Ek, M. B. Convective planetary boundary layer interactions with the land surface at diurnal time scales: Diagnostics and feedbacks. J. Hydrometeorol. 8, 1082–1097 (2007).
Black, E., Blackburn, M., Harrison, G., Hoskins, B. & Methven, J. Factors contributing to the summer 2003 European heatwave. Weather 59, 217–223 (2004).
Van Heerwaarden, C. C., de Arellano, J. V-G., Gounou, A., Guichard, F. & Couvreux, F. Understanding the daily cycle of evapotranspiration: A method to quantify the influence of forcings and feedbacks. J. Hydrometeorol. 11, 1405–1422 (2010).
Tennekes, H. A Model for the dynamics of the inversion above a convective boundary layer. J. Atmos. Sci. 30, 558–567 (1973).
De Arellano, J. V-G., van Heerwaarden, C. C. & Lelieveld, J. Modelled suppression of boundary-layer clouds by plants in a CO2-rich atmosphere. Nature Geosci. 5, 701–704 (2012).
Ouwersloot, H. G. & Vilà-Guerau de Arellano, J. Analytical solution for the convectively-mixed atmospheric boundary layer. Bound.-Lay. Meteorol. 148, 557–583 (2013).
Alexander, L. Climate science: Extreme heat rooted in dry soils. Nature Geosci. 4, 12–13 (2010).
Miralles, D. G. et al. El Niño–La Niña cycle and recent trends in continental evaporation. Nature Clim. Change 4, 122–126 (2014).
Owe, M., de Jeu, R. & Holmes, T. Multisensor historical climatology of satellite-derived global land surface moisture. J. Geophys. Res. 113, F01002 (2008).
This work is partly funded by the European Space Agency (ESA) WACMOS-ET project (contract no. 4000106711/12/I-NB). A.J.T. acknowledges support from The Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (Veni grant 016.111.002). We thank R. d. Jeu for his feedback on the interpretation of soil moisture data, and W. v. d. Berg and J. Wisse for the interpretation of the synoptic situation. We acknowledge the University of Wyoming for making the balloon sounding data available at http://weather.uwyo.edu/upperair/sounding.html.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
About this article
Cite this article
Miralles, D., Teuling, A., van Heerwaarden, C. et al. Mega-heatwave temperatures due to combined soil desiccation and atmospheric heat accumulation. Nature Geosci 7, 345–349 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo2141
This article is cited by
Scientific Data (2023)
npj Climate and Atmospheric Science (2023)
Nature Geoscience (2023)
Nature Communications (2023)
Nature Communications (2023)