IRVINE, Calif. — It might not seem like it in the middle of what’s been a brutally cold winter for many Americans, but the Earth’s average global temperature is increasing — very slowly, but surely. Scientists say that even this slight increase is pointing to a much greater chance of deadly heatwaves that could wreak havoc in warmer countries in the not-so-distant future, according to the findings of a recent study.
The research team, comprised of scientists from the University of California, Irvine and several other universities, analyzed the changes in India’s summer temperatures, the severity and duration of the country’s heat waves, and subsequent heat-related deaths from 1960 to 2009. Data was obtained from the India Meteorological Department.
The authors predict that even a 0.5 Celsius degree increase in temperature will double the probability of deadly heatwaves in India. These brutal stretches could potentially cause more than 100 deaths at at time, the scientists say.
With global temperatures expected to increase in India, and mid-to-low latitudes of Africa, South America, and the Middle East by 2.2 to 5.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the 21st century, researchers are already sounding the alarm.
“The impact of global climate change is not a specter on the horizon. It’s real, and it’s being felt now all over the planet,” warns study co-author Amir AghaKouchak, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at UCI, in a news release. “It’s particularly alarming that the adverse effects are pummeling the world’s most vulnerable populations.”
An analysis of data showed that when India’s average temperature increases from 27 to 27.5 degrees Celsius (about 80.6 degrees Fahrenheit to 81 degrees), the probability of a heat wave killing more than 100 people increased from 13 percent to 32 percent — a 146 percent increase.
In 1998, more than 1,600 people in India died from excessive heat over the summer when the average temperature hovered around 28 degrees Celsius. Another 1,500 died during a similarly hot season in 2003.
“In addition to India, populations in other developing countries in low- to mid-latitude regions are especially hard hit by these extreme heat events,” adds lead author Omid Mazdiyasni, a graduate student in civil and environmental engineering at UCI. “They lack air conditioning that people in richer countries rely on when the heat is unbearable, and they don’t have funds to escape to cooler climates.”
Adds co-author Steven J. Davis, an associate professor of Earth system science: “Given the quantifiable impacts of climate change in India and other developing nations in the coming decades, both rich and poor countries should be ramping up our efforts to combat global climate change instead of turning our backs on commitments we have made to the international community.”
The full study was published in the journal Science Advances.