Europe was experiencing a historic heat wave that had been responsible for at least 3,000 deaths in France alone in the summer of 2003. Compared to July 2001, temperatures in July 2003 were sizzling. This image shows the differences in day time land surface temperatures collected in the two years by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite. A blanket of deep red across southern and eastern France (left of image center) shows where temperatures were 10 degrees Celsius (18 degrees Fahrenheit) hotter in 2003 than in 2001. White areas show where temperatures were similar, and blue shows where temperatures were cooler in 2003 than 2001.
Even the Alps, which arc across southeastern France, Switzerland, Austria, and northern Italy (just below image center), were very warm. Glaciers were melting rapidly and swelling rivers and lakes to dangerously high levels. Climbers had to be evacuated from Switzerland’s famous Matterhorn after melting triggered the collapse of a rock face. The popular climbing destination was closed while geologists assessed the possibility of further collapses.
The heat wave stretched northward all the way to the United Kingdom, particularly southern England (bottom of island) and Scotland (top of island). In London, trains were shut down over fears that tracks would buckle in the heat, while in Scotland the high temperatures combined with falling water levels in rivers and streams threatened the spawning and survival of salmon. Throughout France, Spain, Portugal, and Italy, the intense heat and dry conditions sparked devastating forest fires that killed at least 15 people.
Image courtesy Reto Stockli and Robert Simmon, based upon data provided by the MODIS Land Science Team.