Global warming threatens to run residents out of coastal cities as melting ice caps cause sea levels to rise. Now, a new study released this week suggests some areas of the planet will be unfit for human occupation by the end of this century. Specifically, scientists project that temperatures in the Persian Gulf will rise so high people will be unable to continue living there. The unchecked effects of climate change will impact major cities first, an ironic backlash from burning the very resources harvested in that region.
This new study comes from researchers at Loyola Marymount University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The Persian Gulf region already experiences some of the most intense summer heat found on Earth, and rising global temperatures are making it much worse. Since much of the area’s wealth stems from the oil industry, it’s a bit ironic that the effects of burning those resources are the very thing endangering the region now.
The relatively high humidity in the area further exacerbates the problem. When high heat and humidity are combined, conditions become exponentially more difficult and dangerous for human survival. When it’s hot out, humans sweat. The sweat evaporates on our skin, leaving our bodies cooler. It’s the body’s built-in air conditioning system. However, if the humidity is high during a time of sustained extreme heat, sweat will evaporate more slowly or not at all. The cooling system becomes useless, and then heatstroke and death become a real threat.
According to climate modeling, summertime temperatures in cities like Dubai and Abu Dhabi could become too high for humans as early as 2100. This is what would happen if conditions and practices continue as they are today, without any modifications on carbon emissions. Fortunately, researchers were also able to make projections for the future of the Persian Gulf under optimistic circumstances. They ran the model using a “mitigation scenario” based on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report in 2013, which calls for big cutbacks in carbon emissions. With those restrictions, the model still showed increased temperatures for the threatened region, but the projected high temps didn’t reach a deadly level by 2100. Hopefully, global leaders will use studies like this to inform the decisions they make during the upcoming UN climate talks in Paris this December.