The usual verdant grasses surrounding Buckingham Palace and much of the British Open’s 176-year-old Carnoustie golf course have yellowed since May.
A lack of rain combined with near-record heat through the first half of the summer created this situation, and satellites images from the United Kingdom’s Met Office illustrate the expansive reach of the isles’ browning grasses.
Like the UK, much of the world — even Arctic regions — have been hit with extreme heatwaves or hot spells in the last couple weeks or longer. Siberia reached 90 degrees earlier this month (40 degrees above normal), Scandinavia is burning, and California’s parched land has been turned to tinder.
Heatwaves, say climate scientists, would certainly happen regardless of whether or not human-caused climate change is a factor. But the planet has been warming at an accelerated pace for 40 years now, making heat extremes more likely.
“Weather is not climate, obviously, and we’d still experience extreme events in an unchanged climate,” Kate Marvel, a climate scientist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said over email.
“But we’re ‘loading the dice’ here — creating the conditions that make heatwaves much more likely,” said Marvel.
So far this summer, the UK is on track to challenge 1995 as the driest UK summer in recorded history, Alex Deacon, a Met Office meteorologist, explained online. The same can be said for the UK’s heat since early June.
“It’s been quite remarkable if we take 2018 so far,” said Deacon.
“We could be pushing records,” he added.
Though it can be challenging to attribute any particular weather event, like a heatwave, to climate change, with improving measurements scientists have begun to a connect extreme weather events to the changing climate.
“We can pretty confidently attribute heat waves to climate change in many cases,” said Marvel, noting the first major attribution event found a human fingerprint in an earlier European heatwave, in 2003.
“We can blame climate change for many subsequent heatwaves,” Marvel added.
At this early stage, it’s unclear if the UK’s current period of heatwaves and warm spells has a clear human fingerprint, but it’s certainly consistent with Earth’s warming trend, both on the global scale, and in individual countries.
And it’s not ending yet. The Met Office expects another heatwave to hit the nation this weekend.