Extreme Heat Waves Expected to Double by 2020

By Valerie Smock
9/12/2013 12:32:24 PM

We've already dealt with those stretches of high temperatures so far in 2013 across parts of the U.S. Valerie Smock says researchers think those may become even more frequent.

Climate change is set to trigger more frequent and severe heat waves in the next 30 years regardless of the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) we emit into the atmosphere, according to a new study. In the U.S., there have already been heat waves in 2012 and 2013. Even back in 2009, Australia was feeling the heat.

Lead author of the study, Dim Coumou, from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, said, "We find that up until 2040, the frequency of monthly heat extremes will increase several fold, independent of the emission scenario we choose to take. Mitigation can, however, strongly reduce the number of extremes in the second half of the 21st century."

Heat extremes can be very damaging to society and ecosystems, often causing heat-related deaths, forest fires or losses to agricultural production. So an increase in frequency is likely to pose serious challenges to society in the future. Some regions, according to researchers, will have to adapt to more frequent and more severe heat waves already in the near term.