Ongoing Scientific Assessment of the 2010 Western Russia Heatwave


The western Russia heat wave during summer 2010 was the most extreme heat wave in the instrumental record of 1880-present for that region. The social and economic impacts of the event, combined with the public concern about prospects for more such events in the future, demanded a scientific assessment of its underlying causes. Here we provide the various stages of one such scientific assessment, led by NOAA and University of Colorado scientists at the Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder.

We provide a chronology of the scientific investigation, including questions asked, hypotheses posed, data used, and tools applied. The effort began with a rapid initial response, assembled as preliminary material and discussion as a web page, which can be read under the header Preliminary Assessment that was last updated 9 September 2010.

A more detailed research investigation was merited. In this, the team employed more extensive observation data, new diagnostic tests, and conducted new climate model simulations to verify and refute plausible hypotheses for the heat wave's causes. In this effort, the team posed the rhetorical question whether the western Russia heat wave of July 2010 could have been anticipated. The nature of this analysis was more extensive that the initial rapid response, and the vetting of our analysis was conducted through the peer review process leading to the publication of a paper in Geophysical Research Letters in March 2011. The contents of this paper including the Supplemental figures that accompanied the work can be read under the header Published Assessment.

The assessment process continues at NOAA/ESRL, and we provide further ongoing analysis of factors associated with the western Russian heat wave. These efforts are presented in the sections under Additional Assessments. There we attempt to reconcile several differing perspectives on the causes for the heat wave, illustrate the diversity of questions being posed and how answers to those may at times confound the public (and even scientific) understanding of causes.

The subject of the Russian heat wave has been of great interest among the wider community of scientists, both nationally and internationally. Several papers have appeared subsequent to ours in the peer reviewed literature. These raise important questions about the interpretation of the 2010 event and its causes, including its relationship to human induced climate change. We provide links to these papers and their principal conclusions on this web page under the header Related Publications.