Study Finds Persian Gulf Climate May Become Too Hot for Humans

Posted on October 26, 2015

Rub' al Khali desert

A new study from MIT researchers has found that Climate Change could eventually make the Persian Gulf too hot for humans to survive during extreme heat waves by 2100. The researchers studied high-resolution climate models for the region. They found temperatures could at times exceed a tipping point for human survival even in areas that are well shaded and well ventilated.

The study was published in the journal Nature Climate Change and was carried out by Elfatih Eltahir, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at MIT, and Jeremy Pal PhD at Loyola Marymount University. The researchers say the shallow water and intense sun combined with increasing temperatures from Climate Change could make it a "specific regional hotspot where climate change, in absence of significant mitigation, is likely to severely impact human habitability in the future."

The researchers focused on wet bulb temperature which measures both temperature and humidity conditions at the same time. The wet bulb temperature conditions need to be 35 degrees Celsius or less for the human body to be able to get rid of the generated metabolic heat. Once temperature climbs over 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit) it becomes increasingly impossible for the body to get rid of the excess heat. This can lead to hypothermia and death even in the fittest of humans exposed to these conditions for six hours or more. The National Weather Service in the U.S. uses the heat index measurement. An equivalent heat index temperature of the wet bulb scenario described above is about 165 Fahrenheit.

The researchers say under a business-as-usual scenario with no greenhouse gas reduction the models show heat waves exceeding 35 degrees Celsius will still be rare events. They are predicted to occur only once every decade or every few decades but they could devastating to poor populations lacking air conditioning. Humans could survive with air conditioning during these deadly heat waves as the New York Times notes. The scientists say reduction of greenhouse gases could reduce the severity and frequency of these heat waves. Take a look:

The research paper can be found here in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Photo of Rub' al Khali desert: Eltahir Group/MIT