Heat waves could occur ten times more often than they do now, finds study

Muscat - 

A new climate change research predicts dramatic rise in temperatures in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), where human habitability could be compromised, leading to a rise in the number of climate refugees.

The duration of heat waves in MENA will prolong dramatically, say researchers of the Germany-based Max Planck Institute for Chemistry and the Cyprus Institute in Nicosia. “Between 1986 and 2005, it was very hot for an average period of about 16 days, by mid-century it will be unusually hot for 80 days per year. At the end of the century, up to 118 days could be unusually hot,” stated the study published in Climate Change journal.

The goal of limiting global warming to less than 2°C, agreed at the UN climate summit in Paris, will not be sufficient to prevent this scenario, the study found. Temperatures during summer in the already very hot MENA region will increase more than two times faster compared to the average global warming. “This means that during hot days temperatures south of the Mediterranean will reach around 46°C by mid-century. Such extremely hot days will occur five times more often than was the case at the turn of the millennium. In combination with increasing air pollution by windblown desert dust, the environmental conditions could become intolerable and may force people to migrate,” noted the study.

More than 500mn people live in MENA - a region which is very hot in summer and where climate change is already evident. The number of extremely hot days has doubled since 1970. “In future, climate in large parts of the Middle East and North Africa could change in such a manner that the very existence of its inhabitants will be in jeopardy,” said Jos Lelieveld, director at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry and professor at the Cyprus Institute.

Lelieveld and his colleagues have investigated how temperatures will develop in MENA over the course of the 21st century. The result is deeply alarming: Even if Earth’s temperatures were to increase on average only by 2°C compared to the pre-industrial times, the temperature in summer in these regions will increase more than twofold. By mid-century, during the warmest periods, temperatures will not fall below 30°C at night, and during daytime they could rise to 46°C. By the end of the century, midday temperatures on hot days could even climb to 50°C. Heat waves could occur ten times more often than they do now.

“If mankind continues to release carbon dioxide as it does now, people living in the Middle East and North Africa will have to expect about 200 unusually hot days, according to the model projections,” said Panos Hadjinicolaou, associate professor at the Cyprus Institute and a climate change expert.

Lelieveld who is also an atmospheric researcher is convinced that climate change will have a major impact on the environment and the health of people in these regions.

“Climate change will significantly worsen the living conditions in the MENA region. Prolonged heat waves and desert dust storms can render some regions uninhabitable, which will surely contribute to the pressure to migrate.”

The research team recently also published findings on the increase of fine particulate air pollution in the Middle East. It was found that desert dust in the atmosphere over Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Syria has increased by up to 70 per cent since the beginning of this century. This is mainly attributable to an increase of sand storms as a result of prolonged droughts. It is expected that climate change will contribute to further increases, which will worsen environmental conditions in the area.

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