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Satellites capture Europe broiling in record-breaking heatwave

An unusually cloudfree view of Europe captured amid the July 2022 heatwave by the European weather forecasting satellite EUMESAT.
An unusually cloudfree view of Europe captured amid the July 2022 heatwave by the European weather forecasting satellite EUMESAT. (Image credit: EUMETSAT)

It's rare for satellites to get a perfectly cloud-free view of the entirety of Europe, but on Monday (July 18), the European weather satellite Eumetsat captured exactly that.

The clear view means a bright blue sky even for those Europeans who usually worry more about remembering an umbrella than sunscreen. The clear blue sky also offers no respite from a heatwave that has engulfed the continent, bringing record-high temperatures across the continent and sparking devastating wildfires that have already ravaged hundreds of square miles of land. 

The heatwave comes after Europe's second-hottest June in recorded history and is seen by many experts as a testimony of the profound climate change effects already in place, as well as a warning of what is to come for the continent, which is known to warm faster than the rest of the world

Related: 10 devastating signs of climate change satellites can see from space

Within a month, the lush, green British landscape has turned parched brown due to a lack of rain. (Image credit: Copernicus/NCEO/Simon Proud)

A comparison of images captured by the European Earth-observing satellite Sentinel-2 in mid-June and in the second week of July reveals how the usually lush, green British landscape has turned a parched brown due to a drought. 

The U.K., known for rather underwhelming summers, is broiling this week, with temperatures far outside its normal summer range. For the first time in recorded history, parts of the country are expected to hit 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius).

Elsewhere in Europe, satellites captured images of devastating wildfires. Firefighters are fighting several blazes in Spain, France, Greece, Croatia and Portugal. 

In western Spain, a nature reserve near Salamanca has been burning since July 12, with over 15 square miles (39 square kilometers) of wildlife area already destroyed. In the south of the country, near the popular tourist city Malaga, another wildfire has devoured about 8 square miles (20 square km) of land.

Satellites have also captured destruction caused by wildfires in the famous wine-growing region around the city of Bordeaux in southwest France. Two fires that broke out on July 12 have burned more than 40 square miles of land (100 square km) in the region. Alerts for extreme fire danger are also in place in Portugal, Greece and Turkey, according to the Copernicus Emergency Management Service.

2022 seems to be shaping up to become one of Europe's hottest years, confirming a disconcerting trend that worries meteorologists and climate experts. The continent is warming faster than other parts of the world, according to Copernicus data, with average temperatures already 4 degrees F (2.2 degrees C) above pre-industrial levels. This level of warming is already above the global limit of 2.7 degrees F (1.5 degree C) that the global community aspires to in order to reduce environmental disruption. 

The summer of 2021 was Europe's hottest on record, according to Copernicus, although the hottest year overall was 2020, when average temperatures reached a staggering 2.2 degrees F (1.2 degrees C) above the mean levels for 1991-2020.

The agency's latest data reveal that June 2022 was the second hottest on record, with temperatures 2.8 degrees F (1.6 degrees C) above the 1991-2020 average. Globally, June 2022 was the third hottest on record with temperatures 0.6 degrees F (0.32 degrees C) higher than the average for 1991-2020.

"European average temperature anomalies are generally larger and more variable than global anomalies," Copernicus officials wrote in a statement. 

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Tereza Pultarova
Tereza Pultarova

Tereza is a London-based science and technology journalist, aspiring fiction writer and amateur gymnast. Originally from Prague, the Czech Republic, she spent the first seven years of her career working as a reporter, script-writer and presenter for various TV programmes of the Czech Public Service Television. She later took a career break to pursue further education and added a Master's in Science from the International Space University, France, to her Bachelor's in Journalism and Master's in Cultural Anthropology from Prague's Charles University. She worked as a reporter at the Engineering and Technology magazine, freelanced for a range of publications including Live Science, Space.com, Professional Engineering, Via Satellite and Space News and served as a maternity cover science editor at the European Space Agency.