We're in a global warming crisis.
With excessive amounts of greenhouse gases (GHG) trapping large amounts of heat in the atmosphere, rising global temperatures are now becoming the new normal, with several disastrous effects. One of the deadliest manifestations of global warming is the heatwave, an extended period of extremely hot weather relative to local climates.
In 2019 alone, several intense heatwaves were reported in the US, Europe, South Asia, and Australia. Close to 1500 deaths in France, 400 fatalities in the Netherlands, and almost 200 mortalities in India were attributed to the recent heatwaves.
Recent research suggests that it's only going to get worse from here.
Recently published in Environmental Research Letters, researchers from University of Maine, Columbia University, and Dartmouth College show that heatwaves within the next few decades are projected to become even deadlier. Looking at historical temperature data and climate models, they were able to make several frightening projections regarding future heatwaves.
While several studies have extensively studied the frequency, intensity, and duration of heatwaves, systematic analysis on size has yet to be done at this level of depth. This makes sense since heatwave size directly translates to more people being at risk and increased energy demand. This also means that larger areas need to be monitored for wildfire risk.
The researchers used US temperature data from the past thirty years and compared these to historical climate models to create an algorithm that forms projections for future heatwaves from 2031–2055.
Two different future scenarios were tested, differing on the predicted trajectory of GHG concentrations. The first scenario predicts that GHG emissions will peak in 2040 then decline (middle GHG scenario), while the second scenario assumes that GHG will continue to rise indefinitely (high GHG scenario).
The high GHG scenario projected that by 2050, we can expect roughly double of everything: the number of heatwaves, the duration of heatwaves, as well as population exposure. On average, this scenario expects that heatwave size will increase by around 80% compared to current figures.
Comparing to the medium GHG scenario by mid-century, the increases in these parameters are roughly around 70–90% that of the high GHG scenario. Heatwave size is expected to be at around 60–75% bigger compared to the current numbers.
With this new data on hand, this raises serious concerns for the global community at large. It's becoming more and more urgent that policymakers find ways to drastically reduce GHG emissions within the near future, as natural disasters like these will continue to get worse and claim more lives if left unchecked for long enough.
This also presents new challenges on the local government scale. With more and larger heatwaves projected in the coming years, authorities should look into measures that can be put into place to mitigate damage. Disaster risk reduction management is key, as well as testing system capacities for energy, food, water, and medical care during these periods.
Time is running out. Urgent and immediate action is necessary as the world enters this new crisis.