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Reduced greenhouse gas emissions required to avoid dangerous increases in heat stress

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- A study led by a Purdue University researcher projects a 200 percent to 500 percent increase in the number of dangerously hot days in the Mediterranean by the end of the 21st century if the current rate of greenhouse gas emissions continues. The study found France would be subjected to the largest projected increase of high-temperature extremes.

The study also showed a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions could reduce the intensification of dangerously hot days projected in the scenario by up to 50 percent.

"Rare events today, like the 2003 heat wave in Europe, will become much more common as greenhouse gas concentrations increase," said Noah Diffenbaugh, the Purdue assistant professor of earth and atmospheric sciences who led the study. "The frequency at which that scale of event occurs at high greenhouse gas concentrations is staggering. Rare events become the norm, and the extreme events of the future are unprecedented in their severity."

A 2003 heat wave led to 15,000 deaths in France and almost 3,000 in Italy. The researchers found that global warming causes summer temperatures to dramatically exceed the range that was correlated with the increased number of deaths.

"The thresholds of the 2003 event are substantially exceeded in the future in both of our research scenarios," said Diffenbaugh, who is a member of Purdue's Climate Change Research Center. "This research is about understanding the response to different emissions levels. We find that decreases in greenhouse gas emissions greatly reduce the impact, but we see negative effects even with reduced emissions. Technological and behavioral changes that are made now will have a big influence on what actually happens in the future."

In addition to the human health risks, extremely high temperatures could impact the economy of this region, which includes metropolitan areas such as Rome, Paris and Barcelona, said Jeremy Pal, co-researc
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Contact: Elizabeth K. Gardner
ekgardner@purdue.edu
765-494-2081
Purdue University
14-Jun-2007


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