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Climate change: Persian Gulf to experience deadly heat waves

Temperatures have already breached the tipping point in the Middle East.

By Brooks Hays
Climate change: Persian Gulf to experience deadly heat waves
Temperatures rose to dangerous highs this summer in Syria, Iraq and Iran. Deadly heat waves could become more frequent as global warming continues. Photo by Linda Marie Caldwell/UPI

BOSTON, Oct. 26 (UPI) -- Heat waves in the Persian Gulf are dangerous enough as it is. Climate scientists say they are likely to become deadlier if efforts aren't taken to slow global greenhouse emissions.

High-res climate simulations see extreme temperatures more frequently eclipsing survivability thresholds in the Middle East by the end of the century.

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The so-called "wet-bulb temperature" is the combination of heat and humidity that makes human survival impossible without artificial cooling. Scientists define it as six unprotected hours at a humid 95 degrees Fahrenheit. The National Weather Service puts the tipping point at a heat index temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

Researchers at MIT used climate models to project how often temperature extremes in the Middle East would reach the tipping point in the future.

Temperatures have already breached the tipping point in the Middle East, as extreme heat broke records this summer across much of the Persian Gulf. But the threshold was only crossed for 30 minutes or an hour at a time.

The latest projections suggests prolonged exposure is likely to occur more frequently in the latter half of the 21st century, if a business-as-usual approach to climate change mitigation continues -- that is, if governments continue to do little to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

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MIT scientists found that over a 30 year period, major Middle Eastern cities -- including Doha, Qatar, Abu Dhabi, and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, and Bandar Abbas, Iran -- temperatures will exceed a wet-bulb temperature of 95 degrees several times.

Researchers shared their findings in the journal Nature Climate Change.

In commentary accompanying the new paper, Swiss climate researcher Christoph Schaer, who was not involved in the new study, remarked that current heat waves mostly affect only infants and the elderly.

Future heat waves, he says, are more likely to fatally affect everyone.

"I think the study is of great importance, since it indicates where heat waves could get worst if climate change proceeds," Schaer told MIT News.

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