India, Pakistan have to deal with worse heat wave

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India, Pakistan have to deal with worse heat wave

PARIS (AFP) – Top climate scientists told AFP that the devastating heat that has hit India and Pakistan over the past two months is unprecedented, but worse – perhaps worse – is on the horizon as climate change continues to accelerate.

According to research published this week, even without additional global warming, South Asia is, statistically, ripe for a “big one,” the way California is said to be overdue for a major earthquake.

Extreme heat scorched more than a billion people in temperatures above 40 Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) across much of India and neighboring Pakistan in March and April. The hottest part of the year is yet to come.

“This heatwave is likely to kill thousands,” tweeted Robert Rohde, lead scientist at Berkeley Earth, a climate science research nonprofit.

The number of higher deaths, especially among the elderly poor, will only become apparent from behind.

According to the country’s Ministry of Earth Sciences, heatwave mortality in India has increased by more than 60 percent since 1980.

But the “widespread impacts” on agricultural production, water, energy supply and other sectors are already evident, World Meteorological Organization chief Petri Talas said this week.

The air quality has deteriorated, and there is a high risk of large-scale land fires.

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Power outages last week hit record highs, a warning of what could happen if temperatures rose further.

To climate scientists, none of this came as a surprise.

“What I find unexpected is that most people are shocked, as long as we have been warned about disasters like this one,” University of Hawaii professor Camilo Mora told AFP.

“This region of the world, and most other tropical regions, are most vulnerable to heatwaves.”

the new normal

In a benchmark 2017 study, Mora calculated that nearly half the global population would be exposed to 20 days or more of “deadly heat” each year by 2100, even if global warming was kept below two degrees Celsius, according to the Paris Agreement. cornerstone goal.

To what extent is climate change responsible for the scorched Earth’s temperature in India and Pakistan just going down?

Scientists at the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London, led by Friedrich Otto, a pioneer in attribution science, are dwindling in numbers.

“This particular heatwave has become more likely and more intense, which we are still working on,” she told AFP.

“But there is no doubt that climate change is a big game changer when it comes to extreme heat,” she said. “What we’re seeing right now is a 2C to 3C world that will be normal, if not calm.”

What Makes Extreme Heat Deadly High Temperature Combined With Humidity
What Makes Extreme Heat Deadly High Temperature Combined With Humidity Arif Ali AFP/File

Earth’s surface averages 1.1C above pre-industrial levels. The national carbon-cutting pledge under the Paris Agreement, if fulfilled, would still make the world 2.8 degrees warmer.

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In India and Pakistan, “more intense heat waves of longer duration and expected to occur at higher frequency,” the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in a recent landmark report.

“Before human activities increased global temperatures, we would have seen a once in 50 years warming in India,” said Marion Zakaria, a researcher at Imperial College London.

“But now we can expect such high temperatures to be about once every four years.”

In other words, continued global warming guarantees more heat extremes in the coming decades.

wet bulb temperature

But according to a new study in Science Advances, things could soon turn bad.

A team led by Vicky Thompson of the University of Bristol ranked the world’s most severe heat waves since 1960. However, their benchmark was not the maximum temperature, but how hot it was compared to the region’s expectation.

Surprisingly, South Asia was nowhere near the top of the list.

“When defined in terms of deviations from local norm, heat waves in India and Pakistan have not yet peaked,” Thompson explained in a commentary.

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By that measure, the worst scorch on record in the past six decades was in Southeast Asia in 1998.

World Map Of Temperature Anomalies In April Showing Month-Long Summer Heat In India And Pakistan
World map of temperature anomalies in April showing month-long summer heat in India and Pakistan Simon Malfato AFP/File

“A similar external heatwave in India today would mean temperatures over 50C over large areas of the country,” Thompson said.

“Statistically, India is likely to have a record-breaking heatwave at some point.”

What makes extreme heat deadly is the high temperature combined with humidity, a steam-bath mixture with its own criteria: wet-bulb temperature (WB).

When the body overheats, the heart rate increases and sends blood to the skin where sweat cools it. But above the threshold of heat-plus-humidity this natural cooling system shuts down.

“Think of it as a sunburn but inside your body,” Mora said.

A wet-bulb temperature of 35C WB will kill a healthy young adult within six hours. Last week, the central Indian city of Nagpur briefly recorded 32.2 WB.

“The increases in heatwaves, floods, cyclones and droughts we have seen in the region so far are in response to just one degree Celsius,” Roxy Mathew Cole, a climate scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, told AFP.

“It’s hard for me to even imagine the effects when the global temperature increase doubles.”

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