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article imageSweltering heat waves could become yearly events

By Karen Graham     Feb 24, 2016 in Environment
Scorching, deadly heat waves that usually strike once every 20 years or so could become a yearly event for more than half the world by 2075 if we continue to do nothing to curb greenhouse gas emissions, warns a study released on Tuesday.
This latest research is in line with a study detailed in Digital Journal that came out last year in October warning that if we don't limit greenhouse gas emissions, a number of cities in the Persian Gulf will experience never-before-seen combinations of temperature and humidity events that will be beyond the limits of human survival.
The October study and additional studies that suggest we are already seeing the results of greenhouse gas emissions having an effect on present-day heat waves across the globe lends credence to this new study detailed in the journal Climatic Change.
“Mitigation is crucial,” study author Claudia Tebaldi, a senior research scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), said in an email to Climate Journal. “We have a lot to gain from limiting greenhouse gas emissions, and [those] benefits will be felt fairly soon” if we do so.
Tebaldi and co-author Michael Wehner of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory used data generated from the NCAR-based Community Earth System Model to study 20-year extreme heatwaves, those so severe as to have a 1-in-20 chance of occurring in any given year.
The model was developed in collaboration with the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation, NCAR's sponsor. Using the model, research focused on two things: The frequency of 20-year heat waves in the future, and how much more intense those heat wave could be.
Besides finding that 20-year heat waves could become annual occurrences across at least half the world by 2075, the researchers found they would be much more intense. The study suggests that if greenhouse gas emissions are not capped by 2050, heat waves would be at least 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) for 60 percent of the Earth.
While a mere three degrees doesn't sound like much, during extreme heat events, such as occurred recently in India and other parts of the world, that three degrees could mean the difference between life and death.
"It's the extreme weather that impacts human health; this week could be 2 degrees Celsius hotter than last week, and that doesn't matter," Wehner said. "Now, imagine the hottest day that you can remember and instead of 42 degrees C (107.6 degrees F) it's now 45 degrees C (113 degrees F). That's going to have a dangerous impact on the poor, the old and the very young, who are typically the ones dying in heat waves."
The study tells us that we know what the consequences of not trying to curb greenhouse gas emissions will have on the environment and temperatures in the future. There are many studies to that affect. We already know that extreme heat impacts human health. We have seen the numbers of those who have died.
The study according to Tebaldi, is important because it puts hard numbers to the problem, reports Science News Line . "There is a cost attached to reducing emissions," Tebaldi said. "Decision makers are interested in being able to quantify the expected benefits of reductions so they can do a cost-benefit analysis."
This research paper, "Benefits of mitigation for future heat extremes under RCP4.5 compared to RCP8.5," was published in the journal Climatic Change on January 18, 2016.
More about sweltering heat waves, Greenhouse gasses, reduceing co2 emissions, yearly heat waves, climate models
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