A group of climate scientists from the Woodwell Climate Research Center in the United States, in collaboration with a researcher from the Environmental Change Institute in the United Kingdom, have utilized climate modeling to project a substantial increase in life-threatening heat events worldwide. Their research, featured in the journal Science Advances, integrates climate models with data gathered from weather stations to anticipate the expansion of regions susceptible to severe heat events as global temperature thresholds are approached.
In 2010, climate scientists Steven Sherwood and Matthew Huber conducted experiments to determine the upper limits of human tolerance to heat stress. They employed the “wet bulb test,” involving the use of a wet towel covering a thermometer to simulate 100% humidity while raising temperatures. Their experiments established a critical threshold of six hours at 35°C (95°F) as the uppermost limit of human survivability when individuals are unable to take measures to cool themselves. In their latest investigation, the research team compiled extensive weather station data from around the world to assess the escalating risks posed by heat events in regions becoming increasingly uninhabitable.
The researchers noted that some regions have already encountered such extreme conditions, predominantly in areas where such conditions are expected, like the Middle East and the North Indian Plain. Subsequently, they employed a climate model trained on the collected data to make predictions regarding regions with available weather station data, basing their scenarios on varying global temperature increases. The model demonstrated a surge in the number of locations experiencing heat events surpassing survivability thresholds as global temperatures rise. For instance, a 2°C global temperature increase would lead to a 25% rise in locations experiencing such events. Alarmingly, these increases would sometimes impact regions unaccustomed to such extreme heat, including sections of the U.S. East Coast, Midwest, and central Europe.
Furthermore, the researchers discovered that regions already characterized by high temperatures could face annual occurrences of these extreme conditions. Their findings culminate in a stark warning that climate change is poised to generate an alarming upsurge in such events, especially in areas ill-equipped to cope with them, potentially resulting in a substantial loss of life.