China Could Soon Be the World's Deadliest Place for Heatwaves

By Phumelele Simelane, August 4, 2018

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Unsurvivable heatwaves are predicted to hit China's most densely populated region by the end of the century, a new study suggests.

The highly fertile North China Plain could eventually be reduced to an uninhabitable land as a result of impending sweltering heatwaves, according to a new study carried out by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology.

The North China Plain could become the deadliest place on the planet for the vast heatwaves, which are predicted to hit towards the end of the century. As many as 400 million people currently live in the region, which covers major cities including Beijing, Tianjin, as well as highly-populated provinces such as Shandong and Hebei.

“This spot is going to be the hottest for deadly heatwaves in the future, especially under climate change,” said MIT Professor Elfatih Eltahir, one of the study's authors.

The MIT report determined that farming in the country's most vital food-producing area will become nearly impractical, resulting in "the biggest climate-change induced loss of human life on Earth," according to The Independent.

MIT Climate Change China
The area boxed above represents rising 'wet-bulb temperatures' (WBTs) in the North China Plain. Many areas outside of the region, including Shanghai, Jiangsu, Zhejiang and other major cities along China's eastern coast, would also see WBTs rise. Image via MIT

Essentially, irrigation networks will expose more water to evaporation, making the air excessively humid. The study concludes that the region's climate will not only drastically change in the future, but has already taken impeding steps in the last 50 years. Researchers claim that “warming in this region […] has been nearly double the global average” at 0.24 degrees Celcius per decade, as opposed to 0.13 degrees.

China is currently the largest discharger of climate change-inducing greenhouse gases, according to The Guardian.

The study used model simulations based on data from the past 30 years in the region to assess climate change's potential impact on wet-bulb temperature (WBT) — a blend of heat and humidity. A WBT exceeding 31 degrees Celcius is considered highly detrimental and could result in death within six hours for healthy individuals if it reaches 35 degrees Celcius, even for those situated in the shade. 

The study predicts fatal WBTs of 35 degrees will stike the area "repeatedly" between 2070 and 2100.

The MIT study is the third one carried out of a series, the first two being on sweltering heatwaves hitting the Persian Gulf and South Asia. 

Global Warming
To reduce the effect of heat-related deaths and improve of future living conditions, scientists have been calling for more action to lower carbon emissions. Image via Pixabay

According to China Daily, another recent paper published in PLOS Medicine stated that there will be a drastic increase of heatwave-related deaths by 2080, especially in poorer tropical and subtropical countries located along the equator.

The study notes that heatwaves have already been responsible for tens of thousands of deaths around the world since the turn of the century.

To reduce the effect of heat-related deaths and improve of future living conditions, scientists have been calling for more action to lower carbon emissions. 

"The good news is that if we mitigate greenhouse gas emissions under scenarios that comply with the Paris Agreement, then the projected impact will be much reduced," says associate professor from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine Antonio Gasparrini, the PLOS Medicine paper's co-author. 

[Cover image via Pixabay]

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