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Byron Shire
November 29, 2022

Half a year of dangerous heat beckons for parts of Australia in 1.8-degree warmer world

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Projections show spikes in dangerously hot days for the tropics if rate of warming continues.

Scientists are learning what global warming will mean for daily temperatures across the world and what adaptation and mitigation will be required to protect people from dangerous heat.

Heatwaves have killed more Australians than all other natural disasters combined and projections by scientists from Harvard University in the US suggest more are on the way.

The projections, published in Communications Earth and Environment, suggest a child born in some parts of Australia today could be living through regular days of “dangerous heat” by the time they retire.

And the picture worsens the closer one moves to the equator, with the picture for the Indian subcontinent and subtropical Africa in particular facing more than 150 days of “dangerous heat” a year.

The research uses the already observed global temperature increase of over 1°C (on pre-industrial baselines) and carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere, and models a future temperature increase scenario of a 1.8°C average increase in global temperatures by 2050, and 3°C by the end of the century.

The American heat index – an indicator that classifies the apparent daily temperatures as posing either “dangerous” (likely onset of heat exhaustion related symptoms at 40°C) or “extremely dangerous” (potentially leading to heat stroke and increasing risk of fatality from 51°C) – is then used to indicate how many dangerously hot days will occur around the world, based on these projections.

Too hot to handle?

Australia is accustomed to regular heatwaves – multiple summer days over 40°C is not unheard of in the south-east of the country and even higher in the inland and northwest.

It’s when the humidity spikes those temperatures become dangerous – this is what heat indices consider.

Median projections from the Harvard research suggest a city like Darwin could average between 50 and 100 ‘dangerous’ days each year by 2050, and more than a hundred by 2100.

“Particularly in places where things are already marginal like the top end of Australia. If you go from an average of 32 to 33 degrees, that also means your extremes are increasing massively.”

Associate Professor Ailie Gallant

The north-west coast of Western Australia could also see two weeks’ worth of ‘extremely dangerous’ days.

For the southern capitals that barely experienced a dangerously hot day in the past, even the five on average predicted by Harvard each year may be dangerous.

And this is a median scenario. The risk will reduce if constructive action to mitigate global warming is taken. And will get worse if not.

Using temperature averages like those in this global study provides a starting point for climate scientists to describe future scenarios and for communities to respond.

Prepare for 50: Europe’s 2022 heatwaves are a warning for Australia

As Associate Professor Ailie Gallant from Monash University’s school of Earth, Atmosphere and the Environment explains, small increases in average predictions often hide jumps in temperature extremes.

It’s changes at the extremes which pull averages higher.

“The thing with climate change is that you expect shifts in what we might call the temperature distribution,” says Gallant.

“The average changes because the extremes change.

“So when we’re thinking about heat waves, about extreme heat, and we’re talking about even relatively small shifts – like two degrees – it makes a big difference at the extreme end of the spectrum.

“Particularly in places where things are already marginal like the top end of Australia. If you go from an average of 32 to 33 degrees, that also means your extremes are increasing massively.”

It’s not just the hot weather, it’s the way we respond

Heatwaves are indirect killers, working with other morbidities to bring about deaths earlier than may have been anticipated.

While not involved in the Harvard research, Professor Richard Franklin from James Cook University’s school of Public Health, Medical and Vet sciences says such predictions are similar to modelling done in Australia.

Franklin’s research looks at the health impacts of hazardous events and he recently co-authored a study reviewing the impact of heatwaves on health service demand for Queensland’s Department of Environment and Science.

“You add heat into what are already stressed people – they’ve got chronic disease or other sorts of conditions like cancer or cardiovascular disease – they’re dying and the body just can’t cope,” Franklin says.

The social implications of hot weather go beyond mortality predictions.

Franklin points to the breakdown of infrastructure in heatwaves across the US this year as an example of what dangerous heatwaves can cause.

During this year’s American heatwaves, some cities’ public transport services couldn’t operate, ambulances were grounded by road melt, electrical grids experienced brownouts and blackouts, and homeless people passed away due to the high and inescapable heat.

However increasing heatwaves may also create a “lag” effect.

This might occur when a heatwave – defined in Australia as “three or more days in a row when both daytime and night-time temperatures are unusually high” – comes to an end, but temperatures in the days following are still enough to trigger illnesses and calls to emergency services.

This is something the James Cook University researchers found in their study.

“We know there’s excess mortality, we know there’s an excess number of calls to triple-zero, we know there’s an excess number of people that go to the emergency department and hospitals,” says Franklin.

“In our research we saw an excess number of calls to ambulance services, but what we didn’t expect to find was a lag effect.

“That’s probably due to the hot conditions continuing on, so even though you wouldn’t classify it as a heatwave, the conditions are still hotter, and because of that, we’re seeing an increase in calls and probably deaths as part of that.

“It is quite concerning, and the load on the health system in trying to deal with it, as well as other systems, is why we doing this work.”



This article was originally published on Cosmos Magazine and was written by Matthew Agius. Matthew Agius is a science writer for Cosmos Magazine.

Published by The Echo in conjunction with Cosmos Magazine.


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10 COMMENTS

  1. Well, we/Australia doesn’t have long to find out what 1.8 degrees warming feels like.
    We already at 1.44 degrees ,+/- 0.24 degrees, of warming since 1910 when national records began.

  2. Climate news update everyone! I’m sure you all remember the NASA press release in 2015 where they showed Antarctica’s ice sheets have been growing, non-stop…..

    nasa.gov/feature/goddard/nasa-study-mass-gains-of-antarctic-ice-sheet-greater-than-losses

    Well the updated satellite data shows the Antarctic ice sheet has grown 3.3% since 1980. You can download it from NASA’s website…

    goldsmr4.gesdisc.eosdis.nasa.gov/opendap/MERRA2_MONTHLY/M2TMNXFLX.5.12.4/contents.html

    If you don’t want to have to process it yourself, a young lady has done it for you and made graphs. She also provides the code she used so you can double check her work…

    phzoe.com/2021/11/27/real-global-snowfall-trend/

    If Antarctica keeps growing, we could see sea level drop that could damage coral reefs. We need to call for government funding to combat this global climate threat!

    • Recent results (ABC reported 2 Aug 2022) showed the Massive mangrove die off in Norther Australia (Gulf of Carpentaria) in 2015-16 – was caused by sea levels falling 40cm for a period of 6 months.

      • Nice try at cherry picking one part of a particular event to promote denierism..
        Now, write the full story of the mangroves die off in Gulf of Carpentaria in 2015.

        • Readers can find the article I referred to very easily.

          Plant more trees Joachim, especially in riparian zones.

          “There is only one creature that can convert carbon dioxide into oxygen, and that is a tree. We need to replant the forests.” Lélia Wanick and Sebastian Salgado

        • Steve_0 is right about the mangroves. I’d suggest to plant more Cyanobacteria in the rivers since they do ~80% of the CO2 to O2 conversion on this planet and they like rivers. Most of the rest is of the CO2 is sequestered by shell building creatures. Trees and grass only came about during dinosaur times and are really only decorative.

    • Typical denialist cheery-picking. Your first URL at nasa.gov is from Oct 31, 2015, referencing the first Icesat.

      From there, choose next article, being from Jul 12, 2022: NASA Ice Scientists Take Flight from Greenland to Study Melting Arctic Ice

      Then the next article from Jun 29, 2022:
      NASA Approves Continuation of ICESat-2 After 3+ Years of Big Results

      https://www.nasa.gov/goddard/2022/nasa-approves-continuation-of-icesat-2-after-3-years-of-big-results

      And then again from Mar 23, 2022
      NASA Finds 2022 Arctic Winter Sea Ice 10th-Lowest on Record

      Concluding quote:

      “Sea ice in the Arctic is surrounded by land, whereas sea ice in the Antarctic is surrounded only by ocean and can thus spread out more freely. Overall, the Antarctic sea ice record shows a slightly upward – but nearly flat – trend or increase.

      “Gains in Antarctic sea ice are not large enough to offset the losses of the Arctic. The ice in both regions helps regulate global temperatures. Even if Antarctic gains balanced sea ice levels globally, Arctic sea ice losses could still contribute to further regional and global warming.”

      Pointing to single outliers contradicting scientific concensus is the common last resort of those in denial. Even cursory studies in any greater depth undo you.

      Browse the whole site for balance:

      https://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/index.html

      • Religion works on consensus, Science works by disproving things. Science is procedural skepticism.
        The Theory of Epicycles works just fine. It makes perfectly accurate predictions to this day. There were just a few outliers contradicting ‘scientific concensus’. But with the mountain of scientific evidence that the Earth was the centre of the Universe, what kind of science denier would cherry pick data trying to disproved the long held Earth-centric model of the Universe. His name was Copernicus, and they almost burned him alive for his science denial.

        The ice on the Earth is an effect, not a cause, and the Earth has been devoid of ice caps for most of it’s existence. Sea level has been continuously rising since the end of the last ice age while the glaciers have continuously receded. The Cryogenian period had 100 times the CO2 and the Earth was completely covered in ice…twice!. The Younger Dryas period saw global temperature drop 5’c, stay that way for a century, then jump 10’c and stay there. No change in CO2 levels. I won’t go on with the plethora of ‘outliers’ in which your climate theories don’t work. Apparently your science requires the right ‘political climate’ for them to be true and accurate.

        Go worship at the alters of your idols brother Ian and sin no more.

        • Christian, you’ve gone off piste, again, “Doing a Christian”.

          It not that hard to stay on topic but I see it becoming infectious like with your mentor, ‘Barrow’ and his off piste nonsense “Doing a Barrow”

          • piste – noun
            1) A ski trail with an artificially prepared surface of packed snow.An unpaved road or beaten track.
            2) An unpaved road or beaten track.

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