"Thermometer" by Eweht / CC BY-SA 4.0

It’s already getting too hot and humid in some places for humans to survive

May 8, 2020

By Justine Calma

A combination of heat and humidity so extreme that it’s unendurable isn’t just a problem for the future — those conditions are already here, a new study finds. Off-the-chart readings that were previously thought to be nearly nonexistent on the planet today have popped up around the globe, and unyielding temperatures are becoming more common.

Extreme conditions reaching roughly 115 degrees Fahrenheit on the heat-index scale — a measurement of both heat and humidity that’s often referred to as what the temperature “feels like” — doubled between 1979 and 2017, the study found. Humidity and heat are a particularly deadly combination, since humidity messes with the body’s ability to cool itself off by sweating. The findings imply that harsh conditions that scientists foresaw as an impending result of climate change are becoming reality sooner than expected.

“We may be closer to a real tipping point on this than we think,” Radley Horton, co-author of the new study published today in the journal Science Advances, said in a statement. His previous research had projected that the world wouldn’t experience heat and humidity beyond human tolerance for decades.

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One comment on “It’s already getting too hot and humid in some places for humans to survive”

  • Carbon Dioxide Growth Rate at Mauna Loa

    The atmospheric concentration of CO2 has been routinely measured near the summit of Mauna Loa, Hawaii since 1958. The location was originally chosen because it is so remote from major industrial sources of carbon dioxide, and so it is believed to be fairly representative of the Northern Hemisphere average.
    While you have probably seen graphs of the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration slowly increasing over time, the graph above shows the yearly growth RATE, as well as the estimated yearly rate of emissions by humanity. It shows a couple of interesting things. First, the growth rate of atmospheric CO2 is, on average, only about 50% of what mankind emits. This means that Mother Nature takes out about 50% of the ‘excess’ CO2 that we pump into the atmosphere every year. And it seem like it doesn’t matter how much MORE we put in each year…nature still takes out an average of 50% of that amount.
    Secondly, it shows that there are huge year-to-year fluctuations in the amount of extra CO2 that shows up at Mauna Loa. Most of these fluctuations are due to El Nino and La Nina events. During El Nino, the surface waters of the Pacific warm, partly due to less upwelling of cold, nutrient-rich waters of the west coasts of the Americas, and less carbon dioxide is absorbed by the ocean than is given up. This is mostly due to below average phytoplankton growth, as well as the soda-fizz effect (warm water can hold less carbon dioxide than cool water). Also, the dip in 1993 is believe to be due to cooler ocean waters from less sunlight reaching the surface after the 1991 eruption of Mt. Pinatubo volcano pumped millions of tons of sulfur into the stratosphere. (Don’t try this at home, the EPA will have you thrown in jail).



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