- Researchers modeled future changes in temperature and humidity in the Persian Gulf under two scenarios: one in which greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise unabated, and the other in which emissions are controlled.
- Study found that under the first scenario, heat and humidity in many parts of the Middle East could exceed the “wet-bulb temperature” threshold of 35 degrees Celsius (or about 95 degrees Fahrenheit) once every 10 to 20 years.
- At these severe temperatures, the human body will not able to cool down, resulting in hyperthermia, researchers say.
Heat waves could get deadlier in the near future, warns a new study published Monday in Nature Climate Change. If greenhouse gas emissions are left unchecked, waves of extreme heat conditions, which are “intolerable to humans”, are likely to hit some parts of Persian Gulf by the end of this century, according to the study.
To see how climate change could affect places in and around the Persian Gulf or the Middle East, which is one of the world’s leading sources of oil and gas, researchers from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), modeled future changes in temperature and humidity under current trends of greenhouse gas emissions.
The team found that if emissions continue to rise unabated, heat and humidity in many parts of the Middle East — including Dubai in U.A.E and Doha in Qatar — could exceed the “wet-bulb temperature” threshold of 35 degrees Celsius (or about 95 degrees Fahrenheit) once every 10 to 20 years.
This wet bulb temperature — which is a combination of both temperature and humidity — measures a degree of “mugginess”, according to the researchers.
“The reason we chose to look at the wet bulb temperature is because it’s a measure that has direct impact on human health,” co-author Elfatih A. B. Eltahir of MIT said in a video statement. “For maintaining the inner temperature of human body at around 37 degrees Celsius, you need to have wet bulb temperature conditions that are 35 degrees centigrade or less. And that would enable the body to get rid of the metabolic heat that gets generated.”
If wet-bulb temperatures exceed this threshold of 35 degrees Celsius, the human body will not able to cool down, resulting in hyperthermia, he added. Sustained exposure of over six hours to such extreme “mugginess would probably be intolerable even for the fittest of people, researchers write in the paper.
However, researchers say that temperatures would not exceed the threshold wet-bulb temperatures frequently, but once every decade or two, by end of this century.
The team predicts that while places like Jeddah and Mecca in Saudi Arabia would not experience high humidity, temperatures in these areas could reach 55 degrees Celsius (or about 131 degrees Fahrenheit) during summer months.
This could be of concern, especially if such deadly heat wave events coincide with the annual Hajj, or annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca — when as many as 2 million pilgrims take part in rituals that include standing outdoors for a full day of prayer, according to MIT’s press release.
The team also found that under the scenario in which serious steps are taken to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, impacts on temperature will not be as severe in the future.
- Pal JS, and Eltahir EAB (2015) Future temperature in southwest Asia projected to exceed a threshold for human adaptability. Nature Climate Change. doi:10.1038/nclimate2833