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Seeing the future hot spells

Tapping satellite data to better predict killer heat waves

12:49pm, March 13, 2009

Satellite observations of soil moisture, combined with regional climate models, could help scientists better predict the size and scope of future heat waves, a new study suggests.

One of the most devastating heat waves in recent years struck Europe in 2003 (SN: 7/3/04, p. 10). Along with an estimated 70,000 heat-related deaths across the continent — many of them in France, the epicenter of the heat wave — droughts before and during the hot spell helped trigger forest fires and crop losses, Richard de Jeu, an environmental scientist at VU University Amsterdam in the Netherlands, and his colleagues report online March 4 in the Journal of Geophysical Research–Atmospheres. The combination of high temperature and drought trimmed the continent’s foliage growth, on average, by about 30 percent that year (SN: 10/15/05, p. 254).

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