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Study: Europe to have more killer summers

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LONDON, England (Reuters) -- Extreme summers and scorching heat waves similar to the one that killed an estimated 20,000 people across Europe last summer could become more frequent in the future, climate scientists said.

Last summer's record-breaking temperatures were very unusual but global warming and an increase in climate variability means more heat waves are likely in years to come.

"It is likely that these types of events will become more common," Dr Christoph Schar, of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology ETH Zurich, told Reuters on Sunday.

"Our simulations show that, roughly speaking, every second European summer is likely to be as warm, if not warmer, than the summer of 2003."

Summer temperatures change slightly from one year to another but they have become more variable with stronger fluctuations in temperature making it more difficult to predict changes and more likely they will be extreme.

Schar and scientists at the Swiss meteorological service MeteoSwiss made simulations of future climate from 2071 to 2100 using records from the past 150 years and assuming that concentrations of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide from cars and factories would rise to twice their current level by the end of the century.

Their predictions are published online by the science journal Nature.

"By the end of the century we will still see some normal summers, looking from today's perspective, but the mean would be more like 2003 and the maximum would be even warmer," Schar added.

In some parts of Europe last summer's temperatures were up to five degrees Centigrade (8 or more Fahrenheit) higher than normal over a period of three months.

Such a rise over a day or week is not unusual but over three months is rare.

"The previous record in Switzerland, in 1947, had been three degrees C," said Schar.

The searing heat wave is thought to have contributed to an estimated 13,600 extra deaths in August in France. In Italy, where the mercury soared to 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit), reports suggested deaths rose 20 percent during the summer.

The elderly were most vulnerable to the extreme heat which also caused forest fires, crop losses and water shortages.

The World Health Organization has warned that the death toll from global warming will continue in coming years if current trends continue.

Copyright 2004 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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