Tag Archives: heatwave

Corals in the Mediterranean are becoming ‘functionally extinct’ due to climate change

Climate change is affecting corals everywhere — including in the Mediterranean, according to a new study.

Paramuricea clavata. Image via Wikimedia.

Coral populations in the Mediterranean are experiencing immense damage due to climate-change-induced heatwaves. Two emblematic species, the red gorgonian (Paramuricea clavata) and the red coral (Corallium rubrum), have lost 80 to 90% of their total biomass since 2003, according to new research.

The findings are very concerning. Coral populations are a linchpin of the marine ecosystems they belong to, providing food and shelter for a multitude of other species. The incredible decline seen in this paper is likely indicative of the broader coral communities in the Mediterranean. If so, wildlife in the sea could be in a much more dire situation than anyone believed.

A sea of troubles

“We observed an average biomass loss regarding the initial biomass of 80% in populations of red gorgonian, and up to a 93% regarding the studied population of red coral,” notes Daniel Gómez, a researcher at the Institute of Marine Sciences of Barcelona (ICM-CSIC) and lead author of the study.

“These data are worrying for the conservation of these emblematic species, and it indicates that the effects of the climate crisis are speeding up with obvious consequences for the submarine landscapes, where the loss of coral equals the loss of trees in forests,” notes Joaquim Garrabou, also member of ICM-CSIC.

The authors explain that populations of the two studied coral species could be unable to recover under current conditions. Their plight comes down to rising temperatures, but especially to significant heatwaves that have impacted the region repeatedly, with the first one occurring in 2003.

Water temperatures are reaching levels that are completely unbearable for these corals and maintaining those temperatures for days, even weeks at a time, the authors explain. While corals all over the world are affected, this is the first study to quantify the effects of climate change and heatwaves on Mediterranean corals in particular. Here, as in other areas, climate change is causing mass mortality in the sea’s coastal ecosystems.

Both species are emblematic of the Mediterranean, underpinning the area’s complex ecosystems. They also have a large role to play in shaping the sea’s distinctive landscapes and look.

Researchers currently have information on the short-term response of corals to marine heatwaves. That being said, corals are long-lived creatures with very slow population dynamics — they are slow to grow and slow to spawn new generations) — so accurately understanding their response to climate change required decades of study. And that’s what the team did.

They used data from a long-term project by the MedRecover research group, which monitored different populations of coral in the protected marine area of Scandola (in Corsega, France) which saw mass mortality after the 2003 heatwave. Of particular interest were population density, size structure, and total biomass, which were used as proxies to estimate the overall health of these coral communities. Data was collected for fifteen years following the heatwave (up to 2018).

The data showed that all populations monitored in the study hadn’t recovered following the heatwave. In fact, they tended to collapse. Today, they are functionally extinct, the team explains.

“We believe one of the main reasons why we observed these collapse trajectories is the potential recurrent exposure to heatwaves [in 2009, 2016, 2017, 2018], incompatible with the slow populational dynamics of these species,” says Cristina Linares, professor at the Department of Evolutionary Biology, Ecology and Environmental Sciences of the Faculty of Biology and member of IRBio, co-author of the paper.

“During these heatwaves, the temperature conditions in the studied area reached extreme levels which are incompatible with the life of these corals, which probably caused new mortality events to the decimated populations and made the recovery impossible.”

These populations are at serious risk of actual extinction, especially since the number and intensity of marine heatwaves is set to increase in the future as the climate crisis deepens. However, the team adds that there are likely some areas in the Mediterranean where the impacts of climate change may be lower due to local factors. These should act as ‘climate refuges’ to help preserve the corals, they conclude.

The team “Population collapse of habitat-forming species in the Mediterranean: a long-term study of gorgonian populations affected by recurrent marine heatwaves” has been published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

The surprising link between climate inequality and racism

Historic racism and segregation in the United States has left people of color more exposed to urban heat than white people in nearly every major city, according to a new study. Researchers found that non-white people live in areas with fewer green spaces and more buildings and roads and are affected by a stronger heat island effect. 

Image credit: Flickr / Guian Bolisay

Dark surfaces absorb more heat from the sun, and concrete and asphalt (such as buildings) are excellent heat magnets. Not only do these surfaces attract more heat, but they also capture it for a longer time. That’s why areas rich in trees and green spaces are noticeably cooler than those that are dense with housing and industry. 

Previous studies found a link between warmer neighborhoods in US cities with racist housing practices dating back to the 1930s. Areas with large African-American or immigrant populations used to be “redlined” in documents by federal officials, a practice to deny home loans or insurances based on an area’s racial composition. 

Now, in a new study, researchers took a closer look at the distribution of the heat island effect and the people who are affected by them. Using census data and satellite temperature data, they found that the average non-white person lives in an area with far higher summer daytime temperatures than non-Hispanic white people.

“Our study helps to provide more quantitative evidence that climate racism, environmental racism exists,” Dr Angel Hsu, from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, the lead author of the paper, told BBC News. “And it’s not just an isolated incident, it’s pervasive all across the United States.”

Images via NASA of Salt Lake City, showing that white roofs reflect more of the heat.

The study defined “people of color” as including all Hispanic people (regardless of race) and anyone who does not identify as white alone. In all but six of the 175 largest urbanized areas in the continental US, people of color were found to undergo much more significant heat impacts in summer. And this was particularly severe for black people.

Living in or near heat islands means experiencing hotter days, less nighttime cooling and higher air pollution than surrounding areas. Those conditions not only lead to increased mortality, it’s also connected to a wide range of impacts – such as respiratory difficulties, exhaustion, loss of productivity and impaired learning.

“We can trace many of these present-day environmental, socioeconomic, and health inequities to explicit decisions and urban planning policies in the 20th century like ‘redlining’,” Jeremy Hoffman, scientist at the Science Museum of Virginia, not involved in this new study, told BBC.  “While money doesn’t grow on trees, it’s clearly located in the neighborhoods under them.”

As well as finding disparities between people of color and white people, the researchers also found that the average person of color is exposed to a higher heat island intensity than the average person living below poverty. This is the case even though only 10% of people of color lived below the poverty line in 2017 — which came as a surprise to the researchers.

Glenn Sheriff, co-author, told AP he expected to find that more affluent people of color would have less exposure to heat islands than people with lower incomes. “It suggests that there’s some non-economic factor at play here. It’s not purely that property values are pricing poor people out of (cooler) neighborhoods because the average person of color isn’t living in poverty,” he said.

The increasing trends of urbanization, demographic shifts with aging populations, and the projected rise in extreme heat-related events due to climate change could make certain groups more vulnerable to extreme heat in the future, the researchers conclude. Understanding the disparities in heat exposure today could help design policy interventions to tackle them. 

The study was published in the journal Nature Communications. 

Heatwaves are getting hotter, longer, more frequent globally

Heatwaves are becoming more frequent around the world, a new paper reports.

Image via Pixabay.

A worldwide analysis of heatwave patterns on the regional level reveals that these have been increasing in length and frequency in the last 70 years. Cumulative heat — the total amount of heat in individual heatwaves and heatwave seasons — has also been increasing. This property signifies the intensity of the heatwave season and represents “the product of all seasonal heatwave days and average heatwave intensity.”

Catching some (heat) waves

“Not only have we seen more and longer heatwaves worldwide over the past 70 years, but this trend has markedly accelerated,” said lead author Dr. Sarah Perkins Kirkpatrick from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes in Australia.

For the study, the researchers looked at heatwave trends over multi-decade intervals between 1950-2017 and found some very telling signs.

The Mediterranean region, for example, saw an overall increase in heatwave duration of two days per decade. When looking at the 1980-2017 time frame specifically, the team found an increase in heatwave days of 6.4 days per decade. This suggests that most if not all of the increase is focused during these last decades.

Regions like the Amazon, north-east Brazil, and West Asia are also experiencing a rapid increase in heatwaves and their intensity while areas like South Australia and northern Asia are seeing a slower rate of increase.

Virtually all areas of the globe are seeing longer, hotter heatwaves more often, but every region is affected differently. For example, Australia experienced an additional 80°C of cumulative heat during its worst heatwave season, whereas western Russia logged a mighty 240 °C of extra heat during its worst season.

The longer a heatwave season is, and the more intense its temperatures, the higher this cumulative heat value will be. On a global level, cumulative heat is rising by roughly 1°C-4.5°C per decade, according to the authors. Some areas are experiencing rises of “up to 10°C a decade,” according to Kirkpatrick.

Such changes will impact the lives of all of us, but poorer countries with more fragile infrastructures are bound to be hit hardest, the team believes. Furthermore, they explain that longer, more intense, more frequent heatwaves have “long” been identified as “a clear sign of global warming“, according to Kirkpatrick.

“The dramatic region-by-region change in heatwaves we have witnessed over the past 70 years and the rapid increase in the number of these events, are unequivocal indicators that global warming is now with us and accelerating,” he adds.

“This research is just the latest piece of evidence that should act as a clarion call to policymakers that urgent action is needed now if we are to prevent the worst outcomes of global warming. The time for inaction is over.”

The paper “Increasing trends in regional heatwaves” has been published in the journal Nature.

Temperatures in the UK could exceed 40°C by the end of the century

Temperatures exceeding 40°C in the UK sounds unfathomable today, but this could become the new norm by the end of the century under current greenhouse gas emissions trends. Researchers at the Met Office in the UK devised a mathematical model that suggests temperatures in excess of 40°C may be reached every 3.5 to 15 years by 2100.

In 2019, the UK registered its highest ever temperature, when weather stations in Cambridge recorded 38.7°C. Typically, Britons would only see this kind of dramatic heat during their summer trips to Spain or Italy. Now, heatwaves are hitting closer to home than many would have liked — and the consequences can be devastating.

During that summer heatwave, 900 extra deaths were recorded in England alone, according to statistics released by Public Health England. In the last four years, 3,400 people have died early during periods of extreme temperature in England.

Many more preventable deaths are expected by the end of the century, as a result of rising temperatures fueled by greenhouse gas emissions.

Nikolaos Christidis, senior scientist at the Met Office Hadley Centre in Exeter, and colleagues estimated changes in surface temperatures in the UK for medium- and high-emission scenarios.

“While attribution studies have provided plenty of evidence that heatwaves in Europe and the UK have been increasing in both frequency and intensity under the effect of human influence, one major challenge in attribution research is examining changes on small local scales. Such analyses would require regional models, which would need to be evaluated against local observations that are not always available,” Christidis told ZME Science.

Unlike other studies that estimated changes in temperature based on emissions trends, the new research employed high-resolution datasets that allowed the researchers to “relate local to UK-mean changes in extremes.”

“We then apply these observationally-based relationships to downscale data from global climate models and assess changes in the chances of extremes everywhere in the UK. It was very interesting producing maps of the changing risk of extremes in the UK, which can display in remarkable detail local features like the effects of orography,” Christidis added. Orography is the study of the topographic relief of mountains, and can more broadly include hills, and any part of a region’s elevated terrain.

Man-made climate change increased the probability of 40°C in the UK by about 10 times

The climate model showed that higher emissions increased the odds of temperatures above 35°C becoming increasingly common. The effect was most pronounced in the southeast of the country, where temperatures above 35°C could occur every year by 2100, rather than every five years today.

Meanwhile, the north of the country, which is known for its chilly weather, can expect 30°C up to once a decade by 2100. 

An outside temperature of 40°C or more is a freak occurrence in the UK, estimated to only occur every 100 to 300 years. However, these scorching hot levels could be seen every 15 years under a medium-emissions scenario and as frequently as every 3.5 years under a high-emissions scenario.

“There is always a probability that we may hit 40° C in the UK, but this probability would have been exceptionally low without human-caused climate change. Climate change is estimated to have increased the probability up to about 10 times, though the event is still rare in the current climate with a return time of a few hundred years. Going forward, the probability is rapidly increasing and by the end of the century, 40 degrees may be observed every 3-15 years depending on the pathway of future greenhouse gas emissions. Looking at the observational record we see that some areas in the southeast have seen warming trends as high as 1 degree per decade. Temperatures at the end of the century will depend on whether warming will continue at the same rate, or whether we will see higher/lower trends,” Christidis told ZME Science.

These bleak projections suggest that the UK might become unbearably hot during some summer days by the end of the century, with important consequences for public health and the economy.

“We know from past extreme events that heatwaves are associated with a range of adverse impacts like spikes in mortality, detrimental impacts on transport infrastructure, agriculture, water availability, etc. The severity of future impacts would of course depend on how well society will have adapted to more frequent and intense heat extremes,” Christidis warned.

Almost every year ahead of us will become a ‘record-breaking’ one in terms of temperature. Such studies underscore the urgency of cutting back on fossil fuels in favor of emissions-free alternatives, such as wind or solar. But for such a transition to occur within a sensible timeframe, all stakeholders have to be involved — from policymakers and industry to regular people.

“We also aim to keep a global perspective looking at changes happening around the world. Having reliable scientific information on how climate change has influenced extremes so far and how it may do so in the future is important not only to decision-makers, but also to the public that needs to build its resilience to weather and climate extremes.”

The findings were reported in the journal Nature Communications.

The Arctic sees record heatwave amid forest fires. What does it mean for the world?

The Arctic is currently going through a severe heatwave, with temperatures recently reaching a record of 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 degrees Fahrenheit), on the backdrop of expanding forest fires. In response, scientists have raised the alarm, warning over the acceleration of global warming.

Credit Wikipedia Commons

The record-high temperature was registered in the city of Verkhoyansk, Russia. But the Siberian town isn’t alone. Much of Russia has recently been dealing with a heatwave, with multiple locations reporting temperatures as high as 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit).

“Apparently, this particularly region of eastern Siberia has very, very cold extremes in winter, but is also known for its extremes in summer, so temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius in July are not unusual,” World Meteorological Organization spokeswoman Clare Nullis said in a statement. “but obviously 38 degrees Celsius is exceptional.”

The surprising hot weather was also registered in other parts of the Arctic such as northern Canada and Scandinavia. Meteorologists agree it is part of a pattern seen this year of higher temperatures in usually cool areas of the world. This type of weather stands to have global consequences and foreshadows the future of the Arctic.

Russia is emerging from its hottest winter on record, and since the beginning of the year, temperatures have averaged 12.4 degrees Fahrenheit above what’s typical in Siberia. And this polar heat has led to a string of woes for the region, from a major oil spill stemming from thawing permafrost to early wildfires north of the Arctic circle.

More than four million hectares of forests in Siberia were on fire last August, according to Greenpeace. This year the fires have already started raging much earlier than the usual start in July, said Vladimir Chuprov, director of the project department at Greenpeace Russia.

Persistent warm weather in the Arctic coupled with wildfires can cause the permafrost to melt faster. This would exacerbate global warming by releasing growing amounts of methane, a strong greenhouse gas, Katey Walter Anthony, an expert on methane release from frozen Arctic soil, told AP.

“Methane escaping from permafrost thaw sites enters the atmosphere and circulates around the globe,” Anthony said. “Methane that originates in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic. It has global ramifications.”

And what happens in the Arctic can even alter the weather in the United States and Europe. The unusual warming can reduce the temperature and pressure difference between the Arctic and lower latitudes where more people live, Judah Cohen, a winter weather expert, told AP.

Meteorologists at the Russian weather agency Rosgidrome said a combination of factors can explain the temperature spike in the Arctic. “The ground surface heats up intensively, the nights are very warm, the air doesn’t have time to cool and continues to heat up for several days,” said Marina Makarova, chief meteorologist.

Researchers said the spike is indicative of a much bigger global warming trend. “The key point is that the climate is changing and global temperatures are warming,” Freja Vamborg, senior scientist at the Copernicus Climate Change Service in the U.K, told AP. “We will be breaking more and more records as we go.”

Our emissions will blight 1.2 billion people with heatwaves and humidity by 2100

Heat stress from a combination of high temperatures and humidity will affect an estimated 1.2 billion people by 2100 if greenhouse gas emissions aren’t slashed, a new study reports.

Image via Pixabay.

That’s over four times more people than today, the authors explain, and over 12 times as many as would be affected without industrial-era global warming. The study is the first to incorporate humidity into its analysis, which makes heatwaves harder to bear as high humidity prevents the evaporation (and cooling effect) of sweat. Heat stress is dangerous to human health as well as agriculture, the environment, and economies at large, the team adds.

Too hot for comfort

“When we look at the risks of a warmer planet, we need to pay particular attention to combined extremes of heat and humidity, which are especially dangerous to human health,” said senior author Robert E. Kopp, director of the Rutgers Institute of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences.

“Every bit of global warming makes hot, humid days more frequent and intense. In New York City, for example, the hottest, most humid day in a typical year already occurs about 11 times more frequently than it would have in the 19th century,” said lead author Dawei Li, a former Rutgers postdoctoral associate now at the University of Massachusetts.

Heat stress accumulates when the body cannot properly cool itself down during hot conditions. Higher than normal internal temperatures can cause heat rashes, cramps, exhaustion, or even damage the brain and other vital organs, being potentially fatal.

In order to prevent this from happening, our bodies sweat. But, if the ambient humidity is high enough (as happens in a rainforest, for example), sweat stops evaporating, so it stops cooling you down.

The study looked at how combined extreme heat and humidity would evolve in the future on a warming Earth through a series of 40 climate simulations. The authors focused on a measure of heat stress that accounts for temperature, humidity and other environmental factors, including wind speed, the angle of incoming light, and the overall level of solar and infrared radiation.

They report that under a 1.5 degree Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) heating scenario, exposure to extreme heat and humidity in excess of safety guidelines will affect areas that are currently housing around 500 million people. Under a 2 degree Celsius warming scenario, around 800 million people would be exposed to such conditions. Finally, a 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) warming scenario – the one we’re headed to currently — would put a whopping 1.2 billion people at risk from heat stress.

A resident of New York City would experience the worst heat and humidity seen in a typical year today for 4 days, 8 days, or 24 days a year under these different warming scenarios, the team explains.

The paper “Escalating global exposure to compound heat-humidity extremes with warming” has been published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

Melting ice cream.

The recent heatwave in Europe between 1.5 to 3.0 °C hotter due to man-made climate heating

An international team of researchers says that the heatwave which fell upon northern Europe last month was made worse by man-made climate heating.

Melting ice cream.

Image via Pixabay.

Last month’s heatwave was 1.5 to 3.0 degrees Celsius hotter due to human activity, according to researchers from the World Weather Attribution (WWA) initiative. The temperatures were estimated based on comparing climate modelling and historical heatwave trends with temperature data measured  across the continent.

Hotter with you

“In all locations an event like the observed would have been 1.5 to 3°C cooler in an unchanged climate,” the WWA said. This difference was “consistent with increased instances of morbidity and mortality.”

Last month, much of Europe was faced with a massive heatwave. The worst-affected area was northern Europe, with record-shattering temperatures measured in Belgium, the Netherlands, and Britain. Paris also saw its hottest day since record-keeping began on July 25, with the mercury topping out at 42.6°C (108.7 Fahrenheit).

The heatwave caused widespread disruption. Many cities took emergency measures and governments issued warnings for locals to avoid going outside if possible. Several heat-related deaths were reported, although a precise toll is not yet available.

Man-made climate warming likely increased temperatures during this heatwave, the team reports. Temperatures produced by the climate models were as much as 3C (5.5 degrees Fahrenheit) lower than those actually observed during the heatwave in Europe, they explain. Michael Byrne, lecturer in Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of St Andrews, told Phys the analysis had “found the fingerprints of climate change all over (last month’s) extreme temperatures.”

Global heating also made the July heatwave 10-100 times more likely to occur in some countries compared with computer simulations. Overall, the heatwave itself was made at least five times more likely by climate change, and was around 4°C hotter than an equivalent heatwave a century ago.

“We know without doubt that climate change will bring increasingly severe heatwaves, but also heavier downpours and more flooding,” added Byrne, who was not involved in the research.

“July has re-written climate history, with dozens of new temperature records at local, national and global level,” said World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.

Europe has experienced intense heatwaves in 2003, 2010, 2015, 2017, 2018 and two this year. These temperature peaks are consistent with the general warming trend, the team explains, as the four hottest years on record globally were the last four years. Temperature readings provided by the European Union’s Copernicus monitoring service showed that the first 29 days of July 2019 were equal to or possibly warmer than the hottest month ever (currently July 2016), the team adds. The WMO seconded that result on Friday, saying that preliminary data showed July may have been the hottest month ever recorded.

While the data needs confirmation, the WMO said the figures were “particularly significant” as July 2016 occurred during a strong El Nino warming event. There was no such event to drive up temperatures in 2019.

“This is not science fiction. It is the reality of climate change. It is happening now and it will worsen in the future without urgent climate action,” said Taalas.

The report “Human contribution to the record-breaking July 2019 heatwave in Western Europe” is available here.

Heatwaves lead to death and decay of corals, research shows

The rise of ocean temperatures is not the single and worst effect of climate change on corals, according to a new study, which warned over the consequences of heatwaves, leading to their death and decay.

Credit: Flickr

Researchers reporting in the journal Current Biology showed that severe marine heatwaves, as happened in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef (GBR) in 2016, are worse for corals than the phenomenon known as bleaching, in which they corals expel the algae living in their tissues and turn white.

“The water temperatures are so warm that the coral doesn’t bleach, it dies,” says Tracy Ainsworth of The University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia. “We still see the coral become white as the animal dies and its skeleton is exposed to the water, and then we see it very rapidly become overgrown by colonizing algae from both the inside out and the outside in.”

Ainsworth and her team had shown in a previous study that just a 0.5ºC increase in water temperature changes the extent of mortality in corals during bleaching. In the new one, they examined GBR corals following the 2016 mass bleaching event.

At that time, reefs of the northern GBR were exposed to a rapid and severe rise in sea surface temperatures, with more than 30% experiencing temperatures above the established threshold for coral survival. After the heatwave, the corals showed rapid degradation and mortality as microbial biofilms took over.

Ainsworth and colleagues simulated the severe heatwave conditions seen on the GBR in 2016 with two coral species that showed high mortality that year, seeking to better understand the phenomenon.

Their studies show that marine heatwave events on coral reefs are entirely different from the way coral bleaching has been understood.

The simulated heatwave conditions caused immediate heat-induced mortality of the coral colony, as the coral skeleton rapidly dissolves, and its structure is lost. Within days, a complex microbial biofilm encases the exposed coral skeleton, further accelerating the loss of calcium carbonate from the reef to weaken it even further.

Researchers argued that the findings suggest that severe heatwave- induced mortality events should be considered as a distinct biological phenomenon from coral bleaching. They said that such heatwave mortality events and the rapid reef decay that results, likely will become more frequent as the intensity of marine heatwaves increases in the coming years.

“This work provides very clear evidence that the intense heatwave conditions, which are now becoming a feature of bleaching events, are far more severe and are changing how we understand the impact of climate change on coral reefs and the consequences of severe heat-wave events,” said says William Leggat, first author of the study from the University of Newcastle, Australia.

Hot pavement can cause second-degree burns within seconds

A new study found that when it’s over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 Celsius) outside, the pavement can cause serious burns in only two seconds.

It’s summertime, which means it’s heatwave season. Cities get abnormally hot throughout the year due to the urban heat island effect — largely due to paved surfaces and buildings, which capture more of the sun’s heat. Pavement covers as much as 45% of urban areas, and on a hot summer day, the surface of a road may get as hot as 60 degrees Celsius (140 degrees Fahrenheit).

Needless to say, at that temperature, touching the pavement with your bare skin is quite dangerous. But it can also be dangerous at lower temperatures.

In order to assess just how hot is too hot, a team of surgeons from the UNLV School of Medicine reviewed all the burn victim cases from a Las Vegas burn center, taking into consideration the outside temperatures.

For starters, they found that pavements are indeed a contributor to burn cases. Due to its thermal behavior, it can easily get much hotter than the air temperature, and it passes that temperature with generosity. In other words, it gets hot and it can burn you.

“Pavement burns account for a significant number of burn-related injuries, particularly in the Southwestern United States,” said Dr. Jorge Vega, UNLV School of Medicine surgeon and the study’s lead author. “The pavement can be significantly hotter than the ambient temperature in direct sunlight and can cause second-degree burns within two seconds.”

Over 88% of related incidents occurred when temps were 95 degrees or higher, and the risk increases exponentially as temperatures exceeded 105 degrees. Paved surfaces get much hotter than the ambient air — up to 30 degrees F hotter — and while no one really wants to touch hot pavement, some people might not have a choice (like those who fall down or are in accidents), or they might not realize the dangers that lurk, even with a short touch.

The problem is that even when it’s not very hot outside, the asphalt can still get much hotter than the surrounding environment.

Researchers say this information can also be useful for medical centers. When it gets very hot, they can prepare for an increased likelihood of burn accidents.

“This information is useful for burn centers in hotter climates, to plan and prepare for the coordination of care and treatment,” says Vega. “It can also be used for burn injury prevention and public health awareness, including increased awareness and additional training to emergency medical service and police personnel when attending to pavement burn victims in the field.”

As the current climate crisis continues to unfold, heatwaves will become much more common. This is another example of an unexpected consequence caused by this phenomenon.

It’s so hot in Finland’s Lapland the reindeer have hit the beach

The heatwave in Finland is causing some unusual scenes: a pair of reindeer were spotted on the beach in northern Finland.

They bother no one and no one bothers them. Image credits: This is Finland.

It’s been a sizzling couple of days in Scandinavia. The heatwave that’s been ravaging central and western Europe has migrated northwards, making for some tropical days in Norway, Sweden, and Finland. Authorities have issued heat warnings, urging people to stay indoors if possible and stay hydrated. But humans aren’t the only ones affected by the scorching temperatures.

In Finland, authorities have warned motorists to be mindful of moose, who are crossing more roads than usual in their attempts to find water and quench their thirst. Elsewhere, the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat reported earlier this week of reindeer “queuing at the Kela office” — after a group of reindeer gathered outside a social benefits agency in a Lapland village of Inari to stand in the shade.

But without a doubt, the star of the show were the two reindeer that sought some respite from the heat on a beach in Lapland — Finland’s northernmost region known for its Christmas spirit and its reindeer. They didn’t seem to care about anything other than cooling down.

“Many people took photos and it didn’t seem to bother them in the slightest. Children were playing nearby and that didn’t disturb them either,” said Johanna Koivisto, who snapped a picture of the resting duo.

Koivisto said she wasn’t surprised too surprised to see reindeer at the beach — it’s become quite a common sight, as temperatures in Finland continues to rise. Temperatures at the beach were around 28 °C (82 F).

The annual Finnish mean temperature has risen 2.3 °C since preindustrial times. Warming has been greatest in early winter, nearly 5 °C, but summer temperatures are harder to bear for wildlife. The month of July 2018 in Finland had the highest-ever temperatures recorded by the Finnish Meteorological Institute since recordings started in 1838, although this month is very similar.

July temperatures in Finland average 13 to 17°C (55-63 F), but pass 30°C in some parts during heatwaves. The northernmost municipality of Utsjoki, north of the Arctic Circle, experienced a record-breaking temperature of 33.3 °C (92 °F) in July 2018.

As for reindeer, the pair that made it to the beach can consider themselves lucky. The climate crisis which our world is facing is devastating for reindeer populations,  and more than 50% of their population has collapsed  over the past few decades. Reindeer in Lapland, like those all over the Arctic, are finding it extremely difficult to cope with the high temperatures.

Paris registers all-time hottest day amid Europe’s heatwave

A historic heatwave caused record temperatures on Europe and shattered all-time highs in multiple countries and cities. Paris is one of the hardest-hit cities, registering 108.7 degrees Fahrenheit (42.6 Celsius), breaking the previous record of 104.7 (40.4) set in 1947.

Credit: Wikipedia Commons

 

The heatwave was caused by a massive area of high pressure air that extended into the upper atmosphere. The phenomenon — known as a heat dome — has temporarily rerouted the typical flow of the jet stream and allowed hot air from Africa to surge northward. It is expected to migrate farther north by the weekend.

French authorities issued a red alert in the Paris region and 19 other districts as temperatures were expected to reach 108-109 degrees (42-43C) in parts of the country. Locals were advised to avoid traveling to work from home if possible. Some nurseries were closed.

“No one is safe in such temperatures,” said Agnès Buzyn, France’s health minister. “This is the first time that this affects departments in the north of the country, populations that are not accustomed to such heat.”

France is particularly wary of high heat after a 2003 heatwave killed nearly 15,000 people, especially elderly people. Since then, the government has introduced a color-coded heat alert system to warn people when temperatures are expected to rise to dangerous levels in their area and trigger government assistance efforts.

The alert system went to its maximum level of red for the first time during last month’s heatwave, when France saw its highest-ever recorded temperature of 114.8 degrees (46C). On Thursday, about one-fifth of French territory was issued a red alert, stretching from the English Channel through the Paris region and down to Burgundy. Élisabeth Borne, France’s minister of sustainable development, urged citizens to cancel or postpone all unnecessary travel. The SNCF, France’s state-owned railway company, allowed customers to exchange or cancel free of charge any Thursday travel to the heaviest-affected 20 northern regions.

Climate experts at the UK’s Met Office said there’s “no doubt” climate change is playing a role in the heatwave, assuring it’s making summer heatwaves five times more likely and significantly more intense – making these temperatures the new normal in many parts of the world.

“What we have at the moment is this very warm stream of air, coming up from northern Africa, bringing with it unusually warm weather,” Peter Stott, from the Met Office, said. “But without climate change, we wouldn’t have hit the peaks that we’re hitting right now.”

The UK recorded a record temperature for July of 100.5 (38.1C), with trains running more slowly to stop rails from buckling. Meanwhile, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands also reached new record highs, of 107.2 (41.8C), 106.7 (41.5C), 105.4 (40.8C) and 105.2 (40.7C) respectively.

But temperate Europe – where air conditioning is rare – isn’t equipped for the temperatures sizzling the region this week. So, tourists frolicked in fountains to seek relief, while authorities and volunteers fanned out to help the elderly, sick, and homeless — those hit hardest by the heat.

Across Germany, Switzerland, and Austria, some communities painted rail tracks in white hoping the light color would help cool them down by a few degrees. In Cologne in western Germany, volunteers offered free water to passers-bys at the initiative of the city’s local transportation system.

Credit: Pixabay

Electric fans might make heatwaves even more unbearable — if you’re a senior

Credit: Pixabay

Credit: Pixabay

Heatwaves are becoming increasingly unbearable. For instance, this summer has set new records for high temperatures around the northern hemisphere. The UK has witnessed its driest summer in modern history, Japan reported its hottest local temperatures, and Scandinavia, known for its frigid temperatures, has been sizzling in temperatures over 30°C (86°F). Naturally, many resort to electric fans to cool off. But for those age 60 or older, this might actually make things worse when temperatures are in excess of 42°C (107°F), according to a 2016 study.

When you’re just ‘blowing hot air’

An electric fan is not air conditioning, and in most cases, if you use it during a hot summer day the air being blown in your face may actually be warmer than your body. The heat contained in the air is then absorbed by our skin, which in a way is similar to how an oven fan blows hot air inside to increase convection and cook food faster — but you still feel cooler after turning the fan on.

While at first glance, a fan should actually make our bodies warmer, not cooler, this isn’t the case because the human body isn’t a closed system. We generate heat all the time and it’s imperative we blow it out otherwise, we overheat – and that’s how people can die of fever.

Central to regulating body heat are the skin, sweat glands, and blood vessels. The dermis, which is the middle layer of the skin, stores most of the body’s water. If it gets too hot, sweat glands activate and migrate that water, along with the body’s salt, to the surface of the skin — a watery solution we know as sweat. Once at the surface of the skin, the water evaporates and cools the body keeping it in a healthy temperature range. That’s why you feel so refreshed and even trembling cold after a swim despite the fact that the beach is scorching hot.

A fan cools you down despite the fact that the air it blows over you might be warmer than the body’s surface because it essentially stimulates sweat evaporation. So, it all boils down to cooling down more by sweating than you’re warming up from the warm air for an electric fan to be worth using. Naturally, if it becomes too hot the sweating can’t offset the hot air blowing in your face, in which case a fan makes things worse.

In 2015, a study found that young people can still get cool using a fan even at 42ºC (107°F) and up to 50 percent humidity. University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas repeated this experiment with nine people between age 60 to 80 years. As part of the experiment, each participant was seated in a room at 42ºC (107°F) where a 16-inch fan was either turned on or off. The humidity was incrementally raised every five minutes from 30 percent to 70 percent.

Heart rates were up to nine beats per minute higher when using the fan and the subjects’ internal body temperatures were three-tenths to four-tenths of a degree higher with the fan turned on. Generally speaking, this isn’t something bad — it’s just that using the fan is pretty much useless if you’re over 60 years old in these conditions. However, if the elder has a history of heart problems, then using a fan during a really hot day might be a bad idea.

“The last thing we want is for people to stop using fans because in more moderate temperatures there’s no question that fans can be beneficial,” said study author Craig Crandall, who is a professor of internal medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. “We are only saying that in certain conditions, such as an extreme heat wave, fans may be detrimental.”

“The concern that we have is that if someone were to sit in front of the fan for eight hours a day, we don’t know how high their core temperature [or heart rate] will become,” said Crandall.”If that could cause a temperature to be a degree or a degree and a half higher, that could have detrimental effects,” he noted.

Why does a fan work if you’re young but not necessarily for the elderly? The body becomes less and less efficient at regulating heat once we age. For instance, the blood vessels which are essential to transporting heat become less responsive at old age and older people tend to sweat less.

In this situation, instead of using a fan the researchers recommend air conditioning. If this isn’t an option, applying a wet towel and hydration with cool beverages ought to do the trick or at least make things more bearable.

Another bleak consequence of climate change: more suicides

As if climate change wasn’t bringing enough problems, a new study reports that rising temperatures will cause more suicides.

If you’re not experiencing massive heatwaves (and living in the Northern Hemisphere) — consider yourself lucky. Most areas from the US, Mexico, Western Europe, Northern Europe, China, and even Japan are experiencing temperatures significantly higher than usual. We’ve actually been on a continuous streak of 400 hotter-than-average months, in a striking indication that whether we care to admit it or not, global warming is upon us.

Among the many long-lasting and far-reaching consequences of climate change, it seems to also have an effect on our mental state. “Linkages between climate and mental health are often theorized but remain poorly quantified,” write Marshall Burke and colleagues in a new study published in Nature. Burke, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Earth System Science at Stanford University wanted to see whether there is a connection between the rate of suicide, a leading cause of death globally, and climatic changes. As it turns out, it does. People are more likely to take their own lives when temperatures go up.

The study analyzed data from thousands of American and Mexican neighborhoods over several decades. It found that suicide rates go up 0.7% in US counties and 2.1% in Mexican municipalities for a 1 °C increase in monthly average temperature. This shift is brutal. It would result in an additional 21,000 suicides in the US and Mexico by 2050, for a 2.5 °C.

“When talking about climate change, it’s often easy to think in abstractions. But the thousands of additional suicides that are likely to occur as a result of unmitigated climate change are not just a number, they represent tragic losses for families across the country,” said Burke, who also works in Stanford’s Center on Food Security and the Environment.

It’s not the first time something like this has been suggested. Back in 1881the Italian physician Enrico Morselli noted that suicide rates peak in the summer, ominously writing that the change “too great for it to be attributed to chance of the human will.” The CDC also notes that US suicides peak in the early summer, and hot days, in particular, seem to cause small spikes in suicide.

However, this is the first comprehensive study to quantify this effect and make a prediction.

Despite popular belief, which would have winter as the most depressive season, the researchers’ analysis of depressive language in over 600 million social media updates further suggests that mental well-being deteriorates during warmer periods, not during winter.

Scientists note that we don’t really know what the mechanism pushing these changes is. It may have something to do with the way our brain reacts to thermoregulation in hot temperatures, Burke says, but this wasn’t the focus of the study.

Still, in order to keep things in perspective — hotter temperatures are not the main cause for suicides, nor are they the only factor driving suicides up. But for the many people who are on the edge every day, heat may end up being the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

“Hotter temperatures are clearly not the only, nor the most important, risk factor for suicide,” Burke emphasized.

“But our findings suggest that warming can have a surprisingly large impact on suicide risk, and this matters for both our understanding of mental health as well as for what we should expect as temperatures continue to warm.”

In Americans aged 10-34, suicide is the second-most-common cause of death in America, and it’s also one of the very few leading causes of death in the where the age-adjusted mortality rate is not falling — in other words, the number of suicides is not going down.

If this story strikes close to home and you feel like you need to talk to someone, here’s a list to help find a crisis hotline in your country.

The study has been published in Nature Climate Change.