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The emergence of heat and humidity too severe for human tolerance

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journal contribution
posted on 18.05.2020 by Colin Raymond, Tom Matthews, Radley M Horton
Humans’ ability to efficiently shed heat has enabled us to range over every continent, but a wet-bulb temperature (TW) of 35°C marks our upper physiological limit, and much lower values have serious health and productivity impacts. Climate models project the first 35°C TW occurrences by the mid-21st century. However, a comprehensive evaluation of weather station data shows that some coastal subtropical locations have already reported a TW of 35°C and that extreme humid heat overall has more than doubled in frequency since 1979. Recent exceedances of 35°C in global maximum sea surface temperature provide further support for the validity of these dangerously high TW values. We find the most extreme humid heat is highly localized in both space and time and is correspondingly substantially underestimated in reanalysis products. Our findings thus underscore the serious challenge posed by humid heat that is more intense than previously reported and increasingly severe.

Funding

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments program, grant NA15OAR4310147

History

School

  • Social Sciences

Department

  • Geography and Environment

Published in

Science Advances

Volume

6

Issue

19

Pages

eaaw1838

Publisher

American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)

Acceptance date

25/02/2020

Publication date

2020-05-08

Copyright date

2020

eISSN

2375-2548

Language

en

Depositor

Dr Tom Matthews Deposit date: 18 May 2020

Article number

eaaw1838

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