Research finds deadly heatwaves will occur more often
20 June, 2017, 12:43 | Author: Oscar Goodwin
Almost three-quarters of the world's population could be hit by potentially lethal heatwaves within a lifetime if vast amounts of greenhouse gases continue to pour into the atmosphere, scientists have warned.
The lead author of the paper, Professor Camilo Mora, of the University of Hawaii at Manoa, said: "We are running out of choices for the future". "The 2003 European heatwave killed approximately 70,000 people-that's more than 20 times the number of people who died in the September 11 attacks". This heat wave is on the move and much like a spreading forest fire is affecting more and more people every year.
Heatwaves have also claimed victims more recently. For the past two weeks, dozens of people have died in India and Pakistan's current heatwave, where temperatures have spiked to a record 128 degrees Fahrenheit (53.5 degrees Celsius).
So far in 2017, there have been several heat-related deaths in the United States. His global team of 18 scientists identified 1,900 locations worldwide where heatwaves since 1980 had resulted in deaths. Deadly heatwaves have occurred in New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Los Angeles, Toronto, London, Tokyo, Beijing, Sydney, and Sao Paulo.
Those facing the greatest risk live in the wet tropics, where only slight increases in average temperatures or humidity can result in deaths.
Heatwaves during humid conditions can even cause death at temperatures lower than 37C as the body generates considerable heat - about 100 watts when resting. He is an associate professor of geography at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
An worldwide team of researchers, led by Mora and the University of Hawaii at Manoa, analyzed hundreds of historic heat waves to quantify what weather conditions posed the greatest risk of death in humans. The human body can only function within a narrow range of core body temperatures around 37oC. At 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius) and above there is risk of internal damage and medical attention is vital. Body temperatures above 104 degrees are extremely risky and require immediate medical attention.
If the heat index, which is a metric that combines humidity and temperature, reaches 104 degrees Fahrenheit, the human body begins to heat up to the ambient temperature unless something is done to cool down the temperature.
Extreme heat waves, such as the one torching the Southwestern United States and the one plaguing Western Europe, which has sparked wildfires in Portugal that have killed more than 60 people, are frequently cited as one of the most direct effects of man-made climate change.
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Of course, just because more heat events will surpass the deadly threshold, they won't necessarily cause excess deaths, as society can adapt to hotter conditions.
Keller believes that heat didn't use to be a problem in areas like India or Pakistan, but heat extremes are now more common and more intense with climate change.
Thousands of people have died in India from the heatwaves in recent years. If that number is confirmed that would be one of the highest temperatures recorded on earth. For example, the Arctic is 4.5 degrees hotter normally, but in November 2016, temperatures were 36 degrees higher than usual over most of the Arctic Ocean.
Small increases in mean temperatures can have a major impact in tropical countries, especially amongst the poor who are extremely vulnerable, Davis notes.
Humans can survive temperatures higher than 37C (98.6F) if they are able to lose heat, principally by sweating.
Temperature measurements reveal that summers in 92 percent of US cities have become hotter since 1970.
"Our paper emphasizes the importance of aggressive mitigation to minimize exposure to deadly climates and highlights areas of the planet where adaptation will be most needed". It shows summers in Milwaukee are now 2.4 degrees Fahrenheit (1.34 degrees Celsius) hotter on average, 3.3 degrees Fahrenheit (1.6 degrees Celsius) hotter in Dallas, and 3.8 degrees Fahrenheit (2.1 degrees Celsius) in Salt Lake City.
"For heatwaves, our options are now between bad or awful", he adds.
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