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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Peak temps may rise twice as fast as average temps

NewScientist Environment, August 20, 2008

PEAK temperatures may rise twice as fast as average temperatures as climate change hots up. By 2100 Australia and north-east India can expect peak temperatures of 50 °C, while southern Europe and the U.S. Midwest could exceed 40 °C.

So say Andreas Sterl at the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute and his colleagues. They used an ensemble of climate models to calculate the peak temperatures the world can expect until 2100, given plausible future greenhouse gas emissions.

The team conclude that peak temperatures will rise twice as fast as average temperatures, resulting in increasingly frequent heatwaves. In particular, they say that by 2100, any point within 40° latitude of the equator will have a 10% chance of peaking at over 48°C each decade (Geophysical Research Letters, DOI: 10.1029/2008G034071).

Besides agricultural and environmental consequences, such heat will have serious health implications, especially for elderly people and those with cardiovascular disease.

During the summer of 2003, when temperatures climbed into the forties in Europe, 35,000 people are thought to have died as a result of the heat. Sterl and his colleagues predict that such tolls will become commonplace if people fail to adapt.

"At those temperatures you just don't go outside and you have to have air conditioning. Farmers might have to start harvesting their crops at night," says Tom Dowling of the Stockholm Environment Institute in Sweden.

From issue 2670 of New Scientist magazine, 20 August 2008, page 17.

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