New research published on Wednesday found that human-made climate change is behind one of the hottest and driest summers Europe and the majority of the Northern Hemisphere have ever experienced.

The summer of 2022 will be remembered as one of the driest and hottest on record. Large parts of the Northern Hemisphere, from Western Central Europe and North America to China, faced unprecedented water scarcity and heatwaves, an extraordinarily long fire season, and exceptional drought conditions.

In Europe, dry conditions mainly affected France and Italy. Elevated temperatures and a lack of precipitation dried up these countries’ rivers, leading to water shortages that affected agriculture and hydroelectric as well as nuclear power generation. In Germany, exceptionally low water levels of the river Rhine threatened trade for several days. Meanwhile, China’s heatwave compromised cotton crops in Xinjiang, a region responsible for roughly 20% of the world’s cotton production.

Researchers found that global warming is behind all this. In a study by World Weather Attribution published on Wednesday, scientists found that “human-induced climate change made the observed soil moisture drought [across the Northern Hemisphere] much more likely, by a factor of at least 20 for the root zone soil moisture and at least 5 for the surface soil moisture.”

The European Drought Observatory (EDO) described this summer’s European drought as the worst in at least 500 years. As a consequence, 2022 yields from maize are set to be 16% below the average of the previous five years. Soybean and sunflowers will fall by 15% and 12% respectively, the EDO report found.

“With further global warming we can expect stronger and more frequent summer droughts in the future,” said Dominik Schumacher, a co-author from the Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science in Switzerland. 

According to the research, climate change is making the kind of drought experienced in the Northern Hemisphere an event that “can be expected around once in 20 years.” In absence of global warming, this would only occur approximately once every 400 years.

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