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Deadly Heat Waves Sweep the Globe

Climate

This summer is undoubtedly one for the record books. Brutal heat has literally melted roads, ignited forest fires and affected millions around the planet. Extreme weather has scorched the Middle East, Asia, Europe and the U.S, as weather experts predict that this year will surpass last year as the hottest in recorded history.

“I’d not be surprised if 2015 ends up the warmest year on record,” said National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) climate monitoring chief Derek Arndt in June.

The Middle East

Death tolls are currently climbing in Egypt as temperatures soar to 114 degrees Fahrenheit. The Associated Press reported that more than 60 people—mostly elderly—have died from the heat and high humidity. An additional 581 people have been hospitalized for heat exhaustion.

The entire region has been devastated by the relentless heat. Earlier this week, Iran hit a sweltering 164 degrees—just a few degrees shy of the highest ever record heat index. Pakistan's devastating heat wave in June killed 1,233 and hospitalized more than 1,900 due to dehydration, heat stroke and other heat-related illnesses. In neighboring India, 2,500 people succumbed to heat a month earlier.

Asia

Japan is experiencing heat-related deaths in 29 out of its 47 prefectures, with Tokyo currently experiencing an "unprecedented" streak of temperatures over 95 degrees, according to Weather.com. The week of July 27 through Aug. 2—where 25 people died from heat stroke and other heat-related illnesses—was considered the "deadliest" week in the country and nearly equaled the death toll of 30 in the preceding three months combined, Weather.com added in its report.

Elsewhere in Asia, Chinese weather authorities have issued heat wave alerts as some parts of the country experienced temperatures in the triple digits. The Guardian also reported in July that North Koreans were ordered to start work at 5 a.m. in order to cope with temperatures around 104 degrees Fahrenheit in Pyongyang.

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Europe

The heat has smashed records across the continent, reminding some of the devastating summer of 2003 that claimed 30,000 lives. "Europeans have been painfully aware of the dangers of extreme heat since the killer heat wave of July 2003," said Weather.com senior meteorologist Nick Wiltgen.

"This July 2015 was the warmest July on record for Spain, Italy, Switzerland and Austria," Dr. Jeff Masters, Weather Underground's director of meteorology, told the website.

Eastern Europe is also seeing temperatures up to the mid-90s, when highs around 75 are more common this time of year, AccuWeather wrote. And Poland is also experiencing the mass extinction of one very unsuspecting victim: IKEA meatballs.

North America

Although summer is coming to an end, many parts of the U.S. will still be baking in the sun's rays. Some Los Angelenos, for instance, will feel temperatures in the 100s this week, the Los Angeles Times reported. Stuart Seto, a weather specialist with the National Weather Service, told the publication on Monday that while the city's temperatures are not record-breaking, they are still about 10 degrees above average for this time of year.

The American summer of 2015 has also been marked by destructive wildfires that have burned through the West. So far, flames have burned nearly 5 million acres (an area the size of Connecticut) in the state of Alaska. Climate Central even created an interactive map that shows in real time the active wildfires in the U.S.

Climate change?

Global warming has been suggest as one of the possible culprits of this extreme heat.

“The heat wave is still ongoing and it is premature to say whether it can be attributed to climate change or whether it is due to naturally occurring climate variability,” stated Omar Baddour, who coordinates the World Meteorological Organization’s World Climate Data and Monitoring Program.

“But climate change scenarios predict that heat waves will become more intense, more frequent and longer. It is notable that the time between major heat waves (2003, 2010 and 2015) is getting shorter," he added.

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Farms with just one or a handful of different crops encourage fewer species of pollinating and pest-controlling insects to linger, ultimately winnowing away crop yields, according to a new study.

Up to half of the detrimental impacts of the "landscape simplification" that monocropping entails come as a result of a diminished mix of ecosystem service-providing insects, a team of scientists reported Oct. 16 in the journal Science Advances.

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"Our study shows that biodiversity is essential to ensure the provision of ecosystem services and to maintain a high and stable agricultural production," Matteo Dainese, the study's lead author and a biologist at Eurac Research in Bolzano, Italy, said in a statement.

It stands to reason that, with declines in the sheer numbers of insects that ferry pollen from plant to plant and keep crop-eating pests under control, these services will wane as well. But until now, it hasn't been clear how monocultures affect the number and mix of these species or how crop yields might change as a result.

Aiming to solve these questions, Dainese and his colleagues pulled together data from 89 studies cutting across a variety of landscapes, from the tropics of Asia and Africa to the higher latitudes of northern Europe. They tabulated the number of pollinating and pest-controlling insects at these sites — both the absolute number of individuals and the number of species — along with an assessment of the ecosystem services the insects provided.

In almost all of the studies they looked at, the team found that a more diverse pool of these species translated into more pollination and greater pest control. They also showed that simplified landscapes supported fewer species of service-providing insects, which ultimately led to lower crop yields.

The researchers also looked at a third measure of the makeup of insect populations — what they called "evenness." In natural ecosystems, a handful of dominant species with many more individuals typically live alongside a higher number of rarer species. The team found as landscapes became less diverse, dominant species numbers dwindled and rare species gained ground. This resulting, more equitable mix led to less pollination (though it didn't end up affecting pest control).

"Our study provides strong empirical support for the potential benefits of new pathways to sustainable agriculture that aim to reconcile the protection of biodiversity and the production of food for increasing human populations," Ingolf Steffan-Dewenter, one of the study's authors and an animal ecologist at the University of Würzburg in Germany, said in the statement.

The scientists figure that the richness of pollinator species explains around a third of the harmful impacts of less diverse landscapes, while the richness of pest-controlling species accounts for about half of the same measure. In their view, the results of their research point to the need to protect biodiversity on and around crops in an uncertain future.

"Under future conditions with ongoing global change and more frequent extreme climate events, the value of farmland biodiversity ensuring resilience against environmental disturbances will become even more important," Steffan-Dewenter said.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.

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