Technology‎ > ‎

Study Forecasts Deadly Consequences Of Global Warming In New York

posted 15 Jul 2013, 11:52 by Mpelembe   [ updated 15 Jul 2013, 11:53 ]

Higher temperatures caused by climate change could cause a spike in heat-related deaths in New York City, according to researchers at Columbia University. They say that if current trends continue, the number of fatalities attribituble to hot weather could double over the next seventy years.

NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK UNITED STATES  (REUTERS) -  Summer in New York City ... Some days It's so hot you can feel the heat rise off the pavement.

And now scientists are predicting that warmer temperatures could make summer in the city gradually deadly over the next few decades.

Radley Horton, a climate scientist and professor at Columbia University says that over the last century, average temperatures have risen more than 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit. While that may not sound very significant - for some it could mean the difference between life and death. By 2020 Horton says, deaths linked to global warming could rise some 20 percent in New York City.

"As temperatures rise we see an increase in deaths. Our study suggests that under the worst case scenario if we continue see a major increase in greenhouse gases due to rapid development we could see close to a doubling of the number of people dying during heat waves in New York City by the 2080s. So we know right now the heat waves are a leading killer in the US and our research suggests that a small shift in average temperatures as we burn more fossil fuels could double the frequency of death here in the city," he said.

In their research, the scientists created 16 different computer models of present and future climate change. In each case, they determined that the warming of the planet is bad news for New York City, and in the worst case scenario - could lead to a 90 percent increase in mortality 70 years from now.

While higher temperatures inevitably mean warmer winters, Horton's colleaguePatrick Kinney, a professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia says that the increase in summertime fatalities overshadows any positive effects in the cooler months.

"The benefits in the winter don't outweigh the problems the extra deaths that occur in the summertime. So the net effect if you will is not good. It's going to have more deaths even though we get some benefit in wintertime summertime deaths are going to outweigh those benefits."

New York City has registered days with temperatures at or above 100ºF for the last three years. Projections for the future vary, but scientists expect average increases of 3 to 4 degrees Fahrenheit by the 2050s, and up to 7 degrees by the 2080s.

According to NASA, 2012 was one of the warmest years on record across the globe - thousands of wildfires broke out, with Australia battling some of the worst in history. Extreme drought conditions were reported globally as well.

That's why, Kinney says, the report is important for health officials everywhere to heed.

"We studied New York because we had good data for NY but in Moscow there was a heat wave in 2010 that killed many thousands of people and in Europe in 2003 there was a very big heat wave that killed an estimated as many as 70,000 people during that August heat wave. So it's not just New York or even just a US phenomenon it's really a global phenomenon," he said.

The study predicts a majority of the increase in deaths will occur in May and September, which will see temperatures similar to hotter months like July and August in the northern hemisphere.

The researchers suggest that cities need to look for more ways to help people stay resilient to heat, and point out that New York is already doing a good job of doing so.

"We are locked into some additional warming but there are other things we can do to reduce the effects of that warming. So at the city scale for example we need to continue to plant more trees to increase the amount of shade. We need to develop more white roofs so that we can reflect some of that sunlight. Those are local steps that we can take to reduce the amount of warming. We can also see more of this kind of cooling centers being developed, air-conditioning for some of the most vulnerable members of the population."

The team say that as society continues to address the impacts of climate change, focusing on these strategies could help save lives.