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News of Climate Change

Scientists looking at the impact of rising global temperatures on the Persian Gulf region have come to a disturbing conclusion. They say a “tipping point” will likely occur by the end of this century when heat in that part of the world will make it uninhabitable for humans.

The study, conducted by Elfatih Eltahir, a professor of civil and environment engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Dr. Jeremy Pal from Loyola Marymount University, was published Oct. 26 in the journal Nature Climate Change. Using “high-resolution versions of standard climate models,” an MIT statement explained, the researchers discovered that such major cities as Abu  Dhabi, Dubai, and Qatar could exceed a climatic “tipping point” that is incompatible with human life. The tipping point is calculated by combining the effects of higher temperatures and humidity, which better reflect what the human body is able to withstand without access to artificial cooling, the statement says. This measurement is known as the “wet-bulb temperature.” The tipping point is reached when someone must withstand six hours of unremitting heat at 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius). These numbers are equivalent to the U.S. National Weather Service’s “heat index” of about 165 degrees Fahrenheit. The Persian Gulf region would be particularly hard hit by climate change, the authors say. This is the result of a combination of factors, including the shallowness of gulf waters, low elevations, and cloudless skies. Because Persian Gulf waters are so shallow, water temperatures are unusually high and susceptible to a great deal of evaporation, which causes the atmosphere to be extremely humid. This tipping point “has, as far as we know…never been reported for any location on Earth,” says Eltahir in the university statement. The authors point out that these extreme conditions are of concern not only to the region’s many residents, but to the couple of million travelers who make the yearly Hajj, or pilgrimage, to Mecca. In an independent commentary accompanying the study, professor of  atmospheric and climate science at ETH Zurich, Christoph Schaer, who was not involved in the study, writes that during recent extreme heat waves in Europe, Russia, and China, the most seriously affected were infants and the elderly. He says in the MIT statement that “the new study shows that the threats to human health may be much more severe than previously thought, and may materialize already in the current century.” The research is “robust and noteworthy,” said senior scientist at the Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science at ETH Zurich, Erich M. Fischer, who was in involved in the study, in an email to The New York Times. But he cautions that the temperature models and calculations still need to be tested. “Whether it exceeds or just gets close to the adaptability limit and for what period (which is probably quite relevant) may need further research,” Fischer said.

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