While periodic heat waves can claim the lives of people that are vulnerable to such conditions, such as the very young and the elderly, a new study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Loyola Marymount University shows that if global warming continues unabated, regions such as the Persian Gulf will suffer prolonged heat waves that will exceed the human threshold of survivability for even the fittest of individuals. The study itself showed the usual worldwide effects that have been expected for some time, but when these climate models were applied to the Persian Gulf, it was found that the combination of the region’s low elevations, clear skies and shallow waters created prolonged heat-wave conditions that will exceed the ability of the human body to control heat exchange. This means that people exposed to it will die if they remain exposed for six hours or longer.

The report says that by the end of the century, people unable to find refuge in air-conditioned areas struck with these conditions would be vulnerable to succumbing to hyperthermia. While more affluent countries will be able to compensate for this with air conditioners, poorer regions will not be equipped to handle these conditions. While the temperature conditions themselves, 35ºC (95ºF) at 100% humidity, are not that uncommon, these temperatures represent conditions that typically only seen during daytime highs. The study’s models, however, show that these conditions will last for much longer than the six hours that the human body can withstand under those conditions.

While not involved in the study itself, ETH Zurich climate professor Christoph Schaer provided commentary for the paper, and warns that future heat waves like the ones forecast in the study will affect even the young and healthy, along with groups traditionally vulnerable to conditions such as these, conditions that “concerns another category of heat waves — one that may be fatal to everybody affected, even to young and fit individuals under shaded and well-ventilated outdoor conditions.”

“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. I think the study is of great importance, since it indicates where heat waves could get worst if climate change proceeds.” It is probable that the estimate that this will begin to occur by the end of the century is optimistic. Last summer brought extraordinary heat to regions of the Middle East.

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