In 2010, researchers confirmed that high heat and humidity can prevent sweating from lowering body temperature to a safe level. Death can follow due to a body overheating.
Recently, researchers returned to the decade-old work and compared it with an eye on climate change trends.
They found that if carbon dioxide emissions continue to rise throughout the century, about 50% of the Earth’s surface — in areas where people currently live — will become too hot for human habitation.
The researchers, Purdue University Professor Matthew Huber and Dr. Jonathan Buzan, are now warning that if climate change is not addressed by governing leaders and others, heat stress will become worse than in all of human history. The impact also has dire circumstances for the Midwest.
“The Midwest is a ‘bullseye’ for heat waves in a warmer world. The consequences of climate change for the region are potentially dire if we do not strongly and immediately curb greenhouse gas emissions. Human health and agriculture will be strongly negatively impacted by only a small amount of further warming,” Huber said in an email.
The report was recently published in “Annual Reviews in Earth and Planetary Sciences.”
Huber was also a lead researcher in 2010.
The 2010 research disproved the maxim that humans could adapt to any possible warming of temperatures. In that study, researchers used wet bulb temperatures to determine the effects of heat and humidity. Wet bulb temperatures include the cooling effect of evaporation on a thermometer.
The work was confirmed in the recent review, Huber said.
“The annual reviews article presented a theoretical and modeling framework for understanding and predicting heat stress extremes. We found that moist heat waves are far more predictable in a statistical sense than other kinds of extreme events,” Huber wrote.
“Essentially, for every degree C the world warms, moist heat waves (defined here as about the warmest two weeks of the year) warm by slightly less than 1 degree. So even though this is an extreme, rare event (like a flood or a tornado) the changes in probability for it are robustly predicted (unlike the probabilities for other rare events, which are much hard to predict).”