New climate change alarm: from May 2022 to May 2023, the Mediterranean experienced the longest heatwave ever recorded in the last 40 years, with a sea temperature increase of up to 4°C and peaks exceeding 23°C. The most affected area was the western basin. This information comes from the CAREHeat project, funded by the European Space Agency (ESA), with the participation of ENEA and Cnr for Italy (coordinator). The project’s results have been published in the Environmental Research Letters journal.

CAREHeat research activities began by studying the heatwave in the Mediterranean, analyzing satellite data that first detected the thermal anomaly, with values much higher than the previous heatwave in 2003. Satellite information was then integrated with data from in situ observations at the Lampedusa Climate Station. This station is the only outpost in Europe capable of providing information on interactions between vegetation, atmosphere, and ocean, including carbon exchanges and all energy processes regulating the region’s climate.

Additionally, using advanced modeling simulations and data processing systems, researchers characterized the anomaly during the period. Detailed investigations into the role of atmospheric forcings, such as wind influencing the ocean, revealed a close correlation between sea surface temperature anomalies and the prevalence of anticyclonic conditions in the atmosphere. These conditions also led to severe droughts in the Mediterranean region during the same period.

Analysis of these data indicates that wind-induced vertical sea mixing is the primary driver of heat transport within marine waters, and these subsurface anomalies persisted for several months. Comparing the evolution of the 2022/23 event with the previous 2003 event highlighted aspects related to the climate change of the region. For example, temperatures well above the seasonal average were observed from early May in the Mediterranean area and even in the first half of June, characterized by meteorological conditions typical of later stages of the summer season.

“The results of CAREHeat show us only some of the signals of climate change, but we must be aware that we are only at the beginning of a broader process and are facing signs of what will happen more frequently,” comments Gianmaria Sannino, head of the ENEA Division of Models and Technologies for the Reduction of Anthropogenic Impacts and Natural Risks.

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