Future equivalent of 2010 Russian heatwave intensified by weakening soil moisture constraints

Abstract

The 2010 heatwave in eastern Europe and Russia ranks among the hottest events ever recorded in the region1,2. The excessive summer warmth was related to an anomalously widespread and intense quasi-stationary anticyclonic circulation anomaly over western Russia, reinforced by depletion of spring soil moisture1,3,4,5. At present, high soil moisture levels and strong surface evaporation generally tend to cap maximum summer temperatures6,7,8, but these constraints may weaken under future warming9,10. Here, we use a data assimilation technique in which future climate model simulations are nudged to realistically represent the persistence and strength of the 2010 blocked atmospheric flow. In the future, synoptically driven extreme warming under favourable large-scale atmospheric conditions will no longer be suppressed by abundant soil moisture, leading to a disproportional intensification of future heatwaves. This implies that future mid-latitude heatwaves analogous to the 2010 event will become even more extreme than previously thought, with temperature extremes increasing by 8.4 °C over western Russia. Thus, the socioeconomic impacts of future heatwaves will probably be amplified beyond current estimates.

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Fig. 1: Anomalous five-day running-mean Tibaldi–Molteni blocking index and T2m.
Fig. 2: Histogram for daily summer T2m averaged over western Eurasia.
Fig. 3: Evolution of anomalous ten-day running-mean T2m and soil moisture.
Fig. 4: Dependence of maximum T2m on soil moisture and large-scale circulation.

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Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank F. Selten and other colleagues at KNMI for their help and advice. H. de Vries is thanked for providing a code to compute the Tibaldi–Molteni blocking index.

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The experiments were devised by L.M.R., G.v.d.S., J.B., A.S. and W.H. in collaboration while L.M.R. overcame the technical problems with the data assimilation, performed the simulations and prepared the figures. G.v.d.S., R.B., J.B., A.S. and W.H. contributed to the development of the analyses and figures and the discussion of results. L.M.R. wrote the paper with contributions and feedback from G.v.d.S., R.B., J.B., A.S. and W.H.

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Correspondence to G. van der Schrier.

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Supplementary Results, Supplementary Table 1, Supplementary Figures 1–4 and Supplementary References

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Rasmijn, L.M., van der Schrier, G., Bintanja, R. et al. Future equivalent of 2010 Russian heatwave intensified by weakening soil moisture constraints. Nature Clim Change 8, 381–385 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-018-0114-0

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