Temperatures have been rising around the world and breaking records almost everywhere. A few weeks ago, a third of the United States was experiencing excessive warming as high-pressure domes, or heat domes, trapped hot air. Things are no better across the Atlantic, with temperatures also breaking records in Madrid, Paris and Rome, among others.
Today, an instrument on the International Space Station (ISS) captured recent extreme temperatures for many major European cities. While these images offer little consolation for those coping with the heat, they could help mitigate the effects of future heat waves by better managing and planning for water resources.
This instrument, called ECOSTRESS, contributes to the development of the new Copernicus Sentinel satellite – the Land Surface Temperature Monitoring (LSTM) mission. The European Space Agency (ESA) uses ECOSTRESS to simulate the data that will eventually be returned by LSTM, which will measure the temperature of the Earth’s surface.
LSTM could be a game-changer for urban planners and farmers around the world, according to ESA, because it has high resolution on its thermal infrared sensor for land surface temperature. This will help us to better understand and respond to climate variability, manage water resources for agricultural production and combat land degradation. The problem is that it’s not really good news.
Extreme heat wave
The world has already warmed by around 1.1 degrees Celsius since the industrial revolution, and temperatures are expected to continue to rise unless greenhouse gas emissions are drastically reduced. This has a whole host of consequences for everyone, including more frequent, longer and more intense extreme heat waves.
Heat waves are not only something annoying that we have to deal with, but can actually be very dangerous, leading to illness and death, especially in the elderly and the very young. Excessive heat has been linked to high blood pressure, asthma, and kidney failure. It also disrupts sleep, alters our motor functions which can lead to depression.
June was a harsh reminder of what lies ahead as climate change kicks in. For several consecutive days, many European cities had air temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius. But Europe was not alone in this case. Tokyo has had air temperatures above 35 degrees Celsius for five consecutive days – the worst period of hot weather in June since records began in 1875.
Images captured by ECOSTRESS show the earth’s surface temperatures in Milan, Paris and Prague on June 18 in the early afternoon. For comparison, the larger view of land surface temperature in Europe below was taken by the Copernicus Sentinel-3 mission on June 18. ECOSTRESS images have a much higher spatial resolution than Sentinel-3.
Earth’s surface temperature is a measure of how hot the surface feels when touched. Scientists monitor this because the heat rising from the planet’s surface influences weather and climate patterns. These measurements are also relevant for farmers to assess how much water their crops need and for city planners to improve heat mitigation strategies.
“ECOSTRESS continues to imagine the impact of extreme heat in cities around the world, including recent record-breaking heat waves in Europe and the United States. This data can be used to identify hotspots , vulnerable regions and assess the cooling impacts of heat mitigation approaches,” Glynn Hulley, a NASA scientist, concluded in a statement.
Having a better understanding of temperature variations is important for improving our understanding of how climate change is hitting, but it won’t help us fight climate change without taking action.