Europe Suffered Hottest Summer In 500 Years

GENEVA (AFP) -- Europe this year experienced its hottest summer for at least 500 years, providing further evidence of man-made global warming, Swiss university researchers said on Tuesday.

During the crushing heat wave between June and August this year, which triggered several thousand more deaths than usual, average temperatures eclipsed the previous record set in 1757, according to a study by the University of Bern's geography department.

The average temperature in Europe was 19.5 degrees Celsius (67 degrees Fahrenheit), two degrees higher than the average summer temperatures recorded on the continent between 1901 and 1995.

Central Europe and the Alps region were the worst affected by the heat wave, with temperatures up to five degrees higher than average, the study said.

"It is very likely that human activity and greenhouse gases have caused this rise in temperature," said Juerg Luterbacher, who directed the study.

Researchers said they had pieced together a picture of Europe's weather before the 19th century using physics, chemistry and the study of the natural world -- such as trees, whose bark grows thicker with hot weather

They also relied on the writings of monks, many of whom started keeping weather records up to 500 years ago -- and found no evidence pointing to a summer hotter than 2003.

"Monks used to write accurately and regularly about the weather, with indications about grapes harvest or flower blossom," Luterbacher said.

"Climate historians know how to interpret that data and that is how we estimate the temperature of the time," he added.

The researchers found that the number of very hot summers had increased towards the end of the 18th century and the early 19th century.

The overall rise in summer temperatures in Europe has picked up over the last 26 years, with an average rise of 2.8 degrees Celsius between 1998 and 2003. The last decade was the hottest of all, the study said.

In 1757, which set the previous European record, Scandinavia, eastern Europe and Russia experienced a record heat wave, the study added.

The study spanned an area reaching from the Arctic Circle to Crete, and from Iceland to the Ural mountains.

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