Remember those stifling heat waves in the summer of 2012 that made you want to roll up into a ball and live in your refrigerator? Those heat waves are likely to become much more common in the coming years. A new study produced by a pair of European climate scientists suggests that extreme heat waves are likely become twice as common by 2020, and their frequency will quadruple by 2040. The scientists conclude that the increased frequency of extreme and unprecedented heat waves is “likely to pose serious adaptation challenges.”

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In the scientific community, strong heat waves are referred to as “three-sigma events” by scientists, because they are three standard deviations warmer than the normal climate of a particular region. “If we look at the near-term, up to 2040, we see that this increase will continue and that by 2040 we will see about 20 percent of the land area affected, so about another fourfold increase compared to today,” Coumou told NBC News.

A five-sigma event is an extremely severe heat wave, on a level rarely seen today. According to computer models produced by European climatologists Dim Coumou and Alexander Robinson, five-sigma events — which are almost non-existent today — will affect about 3 percent of the planet by 2040. That’s a scary thought, but things could get even worse in the decades that follow.

In the second half of the 21st century, the frequency and severity of extreme heat waves will depend on the carbon emissions produced by humans. Under a low emission scenario, the number of extremes will stabilize by 2040,” explain the authors. “Under a high emission scenario, the projections show that by 2100, 3-sigma heat waves will cover 85 per cent of the global land area and five-sigma heat waves will cover around 60 per cent of global land.”

+ IOP Science

via NBC News and The Atlantic Cities