A study warns climate change could leave major cities in the oil-rich Persian Gulf region unfit for humans to survive
The humidity of the region makes it residents particularly vulnerable to higher temperatures
Drier locations with the same heat would still be habitable because people would still be able to sweat
We frequently hear of the future dangers that human-caused climate change could bring, but few paint as bleak a picture as the one laid in a new study released this week.
The study by authors from Loyola Marymount University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology offers a harsh assessment: Climate change could leave major cities in a key part of the Middle East, the oil-rich Persian Gulf region, unfit for humans to survive.
They’d literally be unlivable.
And not because far off glaciers are melting and raising the sea level or because storms are becoming stronger or more frequent. They’d be unlivable simply because it is becoming too dang hot during the summer.
It makes sense that as global temperatures continue to rise as a result of greenhouse gas emissions by humans (and creep ever closer to the all-important 2 degree Celsius of warming), areas such as the Persian Gulf, which already experience some of the most extreme temperatures on Earth, would be the first to reach a level where humans can no longer survive.
That leaves a region that relies so heavily on the extraction of fossil fuels for its economic prosperity potentially rendered uninhabitable because of their use.
Sweating it out – or not
“It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.”
We’ve all heard this statement, and as a Georgia resident, I can attest to its truthfulness. It’s especially valid when it comes to the human body’s ability to deal with heat stress.
Our bodies react to heat by producing sweat, which then evaporates and cools our skin by a process known as evaporative cooling. But as the temperature and moisture in the air increase, that process becomes less and less effective. It can reach a point where a body can no longer cool off.
The study looked at “wet-bulb temperature,” which is a value that combines air temperature and humidity. Wet-bulb temperature is always less than the actual air temperature, unless the air is 100% saturated, with drier air having a lower wet-bulb temperature compared with the air temperature.
The scientists in the study ran computer models to see how this value changed over time with increasing greenhouse gas concentrations.
Since they looked only at the Persian Gulf, the model was able to capture some of the finer-scale geography that makes up the Middle East – where extremely hot and dry deserts meet very humid and more temperate Gulf coastlines.
This allowed the scientists the ability to see how summertime conditions in individual cities, such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi, will change by 2100.