Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Potentially Deadly Heat and Humidity Levels Are Already Here and Rising

Climate
Potentially Deadly Heat and Humidity Levels Are Already Here and Rising
Doha, Qatar is one of the cities that has experienced heat and humidity combinations past the threshold for human survival. Helen_In_UK / iStock / Getty Images Plus

For years, researchers have warned that the climate crisis could expose people around the world to a potentially deadly combination of heat and humidity later in the century.


Now, a new study published in Science Advances Friday shows that the conditions scientists thought were decades away are already here, and increasing.

"I was astonished by our findings," study coauthor Radley Horton of Columbia University told CNN. "My previously published study projected that these conditions would not take hold until later in the century. We may be at a closer tipping point than we think."

At stake is the human body's ability to withstand a certain combination of heat and humidity. When temperatures rise past 35 degrees Celsius, humans have to sweat to maintain their ideal body temperature, the study explained. But when it gets too humid, this is no longer possible. The combination of heat and humidity is calculated by something called the wet-bulb temperature, measured by wrapping a wet cloth around a thermometer and seeing how much it is cooled by evaporation, as EcoWatch explained previously. When humidity reaches 100 percent, the cloth has no effect. Wet-bulb temperatures of 35 or higher are too much for even healthy humans to survive outside for more than six hours, but wet-bulb temperatures much lower than that can still cause problems for human health. The deadly European and Russian heat waves of 2003 and 2010 respectively saw wet-bulb temperatures of only 28 degrees Celsius.

"It's hard to exaggerate the effects of anything that gets into the 30s," study coauthor Colin Raymond, a former Columbia Ph.D. student now at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a Columbia University Earth Institute press release.

Previous observations had indicated that the 35 degree threshold had never been breached and that there had only been a few recordings of wet-bulb temperatures above 33 degrees, the study explained. But climate models had indicated that, without emissions reductions, such temperatures would be common later this century in parts of South Asia and the Middle East.

However, the latest research discovered that two weather stations had already recorded wet-bulb temperatures above 35 and several had seen temperatures higher than 31 and 33 degrees. In fact, since 1979, the number of wet-bulb temperatures above 30 degrees have doubled worldwide, CNN reported.

The study turned up such different results because it used a different method, as Scientific American explained. Previous studies had considered wider areas over several hours, but this study looked at data from more than 7,000 weather stations since 1979.

"[W]e decided to zoom in a little bit closer," Raymond told Scientific American.

The highest readings were recorded 14 times along the Persian Gulf, including in Doha, Qatar, where the 2022 FIFA World Cup is scheduled to take place, CNN reported. High wet-bulb temperatures were also recorded multiple times in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, northwest Australia, the Red Sea coast and the Gulf of California in Mexico, according to the Earth Institute.

In the U.S., high temperatures were recorded dozens of times along the Gulf Coast. The worst-hit locations were New Orleans and Biloxi, Mississippi.

Extreme temperatures only occurred for an hour or two, Scientific American pointed out, meaning they are not yet at the level that automatically threatens human survival. However, heat waves are already the deadliest type of extreme weather event in the U.S., where it is relatively easier to shelter from high heat.

"This is not a problem for the end of the century, but in the present, especially in the developing world without widespread air conditioning," research meteorologist Ryan Maue, who was not involved with the study, told CNN.

And if temperatures rise to 2.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, wet-bulb temperatures above 35 degrees would become common in parts of the world, the study found, according to Scientific American.

"[T]he inevitability of further increases is a sobering reminder of the importance of both mitigation of the temperature rise, and adaptation to what's already in store," Raymond wrote in a blog post

Presidential nominee Joe Biden has not taken a stance on gas exports, including liquefied natural gas. Ken Hodge / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 2.0

By Simon Montlake

For more than a decade, Susan Jane Brown has been battling to stop a natural gas pipeline and export terminal from being built in the backcountry of Oregon. As an attorney at the nonprofit Western Environmental Law Center, she has repeatedly argued that the project's environmental, social, and health costs are too high.

All that was before this month's deadly wildfires in Oregon shrouded the skies above her home office in Portland. "It puts a fine point on it. These fossil fuel projects are contributing to global climate change," she says.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Eating lots of fruits and vegetables will boost the immune system. Stevens Fremont / The Image Bank / Getty Images

By Grayson Jaggers

The connection between the pandemic and our dietary habits is undeniable. The stress of isolation coupled with a struggling economy has caused many of us to seek comfort with our old friends: Big Mac, Tom Collins, Ben and Jerry. But overindulging in this kind of food and drink might not just be affecting your waistline, but could potentially put you at greater risk of illness by hindering your immune system.

Read More Show Less

Trending

A graphic shows how Rhoel Dinglasan's smartphone-based saliva test works. University of Florida

As the world continues to navigate the line between reopening and maintaining safety protocols to slow the spread of the coronavirus, rapid and accurate diagnostic screening remains critical to control the outbreak. New mobile-phone-based, self-administered COVID-19 tests being developed independently around the world could be a key breakthrough in making testing more widely available, especially in developing nations.

Read More Show Less
A meteorologist monitors weather in NOAA's Center for Weather and Climate Prediction on July 2, 2013 in Riverdale, Maryland. Mark Wilson / Getty Images

The Trump White House is now set to appoint two climate deniers to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in one month.

Read More Show Less
A plastic bag caught in a tree in New Jersey's Palisades Park. James Leynse / Stone / Getty Images

New Jersey is one step closer to passing what environmental advocates say is the strongest anti-plastic legislation in the nation.

Read More Show Less

Support Ecowatch