Written By: Emma Websdale
Continuation of current levels of greenhouse gas emissions will increase warming temperatures, resulting in a major increase of heat-related deaths a year in the Eastern United States, new research reveals.
Analyzing the latest projections from the fifth Assessment Report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, researchers from the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University, in Atlanta, Georgia, warn that a warming future will profoundly increase heat-related deaths across the Eastern U.S.
By using hourly temperature projections for 2057 – 2059, scientists have estimated that air temperatures will rise by 3.2 to 11.52oF -an increase that would result in ten times more heat-related deaths in the Eastern U.S. by 2059.
In 2002-2004, heat waves on average caused 187 deaths in the eastern third of the U.S. By 2057-2059, that number would rise to over 2,000 – more than a tenfold increase.
Researchers used two climate change scenarios: a “low-medium” scenario assuming significant reductions in carbon pollution, and a “more extreme” scenario assuming that the rate of greenhouse gas emissions remains the same. The study’s results, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, found that under the “low-medium” scenario, heat wave-related deaths would increase by 1,403 per year. With the “more extreme” scenario, an additional 3,556 deaths linked to heat waves would occur each year.
The study, which also analyzed the frequency of heat waves occurring in 1,700 counties, found that 10% would experience four or more heat waves per year under the “low-medium” emissions scenario. Projections under the “more extreme” scenario found that over 26% of the counties would have to handle heat waves occurring at least four times a year.
The results warn that areas most vulnerable to heat waves include Florida, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey and Georgia. Those at highest risk for heat exhaustion, heat cramps and heat stroke are children, the elderly, outdoor workers and those without access to shelter.