As the world works to keep temperature increase from climate change below 2 degrees Celsius, a smaller increase than that has already led to deadly heat in India. A new study reveals an average temperature increase of just 0.5 degrees Celsius means the country is two and a half times more likely to be hit with a deadly heat wave than it was 50 years ago.
Between 1960 and 2009, average temperatures in India increased by 0.5 degrees Celsius, which is under one degree Fahrenheit. The probability of a large heat-related mortality event – where more than 100 people perish – skyrocketed by 146 percent, according to the new study. Researchers also found the amount of heat wave days increased by 25 percent in much of the country. Between 1985 and 2009 part of south and west India saw 50 percent more heat wave events, or extreme heat that lingers for more than three or four days, compared to the 25 years prior.
Climatologist Omid Mazdiyasni of the University of California, Irvine and lead author on a study from 11 researchers in the United States and India said, “It’s getting hotter, and of course more heat waves are going to kill more people. We knew there was going to be an impact, but we didn’t expect it to be this big.”
This is bad news for a region already grappling with heat. Neighboring Pakistan experienced the hottest ever temperature recorded in May in the world with a temperature of 53.5 degrees Celsius, or 128.3 degrees Fahrenheit, in the city of Turbat on May 28. And in New Delhi, temperatures have spiked higher than 44 degrees Celsius, or 111 degrees Fahrenheit, in the last couple of weeks.
Study co-author Amir AghaKouchak, another UC Irvine climatologist, said, “The general public may think that a one or two degree temperature rise is not that significant, but our results show that even small changes can result in more heat waves and more death.”
The journal Science published the study this week.