The risk of extreme heat is a growing threat to fast-growing cities around the world, according to a new study published earlier this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
As many people move to cities and the climate is heating up, extreme heat can hurt and kill more people, reduce worker productivity and hurt economies, the study says. The urban poor are most at risk.
STUDY, which estimated more than 13,000 cities from 1983 to 2016, found that global exposure to extreme heat increased nearly 200 percent over that time period, a result of population growth, climate change and the fact that the city’s infrastructure absorbs more a lot of heat. Nearly a quarter of the world’s population is in areas where extreme heat exposure is rising, the study says.
Researchers lack a complete picture of heat impacts because some parts of the fast-growing world do not have reliable weather station data, and climate models used to estimate temperatures tend to shine above urban hotspots. .
The study took a new approach and used satellite data to measure heat around the world, giving researchers a sharper global view of the problem. The analysis reveals that many people who gather in cities in rapidly urbanized areas like South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa are coming to places that are increasingly vulnerable to high temperatures and high humidity.
Population growth is not the problem per se, much less urbanization, said Cascade Tuholske, a postdoctoral research scientist at the Columbia University Center for the International Earth Science Information Network and lead author of the PNAS paper. Lack of planning and lack of investment in these fast-paced urban areas, but that can change.
A separate report published Wednesday on the health effects of climate change suggests the problem is intensifying and inequalities between rich and poor countries are growing.
E Lancet Countdown, an annual climate health risk assessment, found that children and people 65 and older have seen a steady increase in exposure to heat waves over the past decade. Over the past 30 years, countries with low and medium levels of development have seen the greatest increase in heat vulnerability, which worsened because many of these communities did not have access to air conditioning, cooling, and urban green spaces. .
The report also says that climate change is increasing the conditions conducive to infectious disease pathogens, reversing global progress in ensuring food and water safety and increasing exposure to fires.
Heat can damage or kill in many ways. The organs of the body can be dangerously overheated if it loses the ability to regulate temperature, risking death. Heat can also worsen symptoms from underlying diseases such as heart disease, diabetes or kidney problems.
In June, a record heat wave in the Northwest Pacific in the United States killed hundreds when temperatures rose to 108 degrees Fahrenheit in Seattle and 116 in Portland, Oregon. Scientists have said that such extreme temperatures would be almost impossible if not for climate change.
However, temperatures remain only a concern. Humidity, sun exposure and wind also affect the body. High humidity, for example, can reduce the body’s ability to cool off with sweat.
In studying the risk of heat in cities around the world, the authors used a measure called the humid globe temperature to assess these factors. Globe temperatures with wet bulbs are often used to determine how heat affects people during strenuous activities such as military exercises, sports or outdoor work.
When humid globe temperature measures reach 86 degrees Fahrenheit, conditions are unhealthy for many people and deaths rise among those who are vulnerable to heat, the PNAS newspaper says. Those conditions could feel roughly equal to a heat index of about 107 degrees, Tuholske said.
To understand trends in heat impacts, the authors of the PNAS study estimated globe temperatures with wet bulbs and heat index measures for thousands of cities using satellite thermal imaging data and combining them with field readings. Then, they compared temperature data with population maps to understand how many people were affected by the extreme heat.
The authors estimate that the global population experienced a total of about 40 billion days when wet bulb temperatures reached at least 86 degrees in 1983. In 2016, that number had nearly tripled to 119 billion, the newspaper says. Two-thirds of the change was due to population growth. The rest of the growth was due to climate change and additional heat due to urbanization.
Researchers argue that several previous studies of urban global warming have underestimated its impact because some areas do not provide reliable observations of weather stations. In India, for example, only 111 out of more than 3,000 estimated cities provided good observational data, the paper says.
Four billion people live 20 or more miles (about 12.4 miles) away from a weather station, Tuholske said.
Climatic models often used in this type of analysis tend to minimize extremes and are not designed to estimate significant differences in small-scale heat across cities. For example, areas with fewer trees and more sidewalks tend to absorb more heat, making some parts of cities 10 or even 20 degrees hotter than others nearby.
Kristie Abby, a professor at the Center for Global Health and Environment at the University of Washington who studies health and heat waves, said the use of satellite data provided valuable new analysis and explains the extent to which population trends are contributing to increased sensitivity to heat.
The study has limitations, however, she said.
Communities have different weaknesses and thresholds when the heat becomes dangerous, said Abby, something the newspaper does not take into account.
The world has already warmed by more than 1 degree Celsius (about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) since the 19th century, and it is clear that people are warming the planet, according to a report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published in August.
Scientists expect more frequent and intense heat waves as humans continue to burn fossil fuels and warm the planet. Several cities are preparing: The mayor of Seville, Spain, announced earlier this week that his the city will name and categorize the heat waves similar to how meteorologists treat hurricanes.
People go to cities because there are more opportunities, Abby said. There are reasons that cities are growing. So the question is how do you grow cities in ways that take into account a warmer climate?
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