All posts tagged: extreme heat

Climate Change Could Save the Rust Belt

Climate Change Could Save the Rust Belt

As my airplane flew low over the flatlands of western Michigan on a dreary December afternoon, sunbursts splintered the soot-toned clouds and made mirrors out of the flooded fields below. There was plenty of rain in this part of the Rust Belt—sometimes too much. Past the endless acres, I could make out the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, then soon, in the other direction, the Detroit River, Lakes Huron and Erie, and southern Canada. In a world running short on fresh water in its lakes and rivers, more than 20 percent of that water was right here. From a climate standpoint, there couldn’t be a safer place in the country—no hurricanes, no sea-level rise, not much risk of wildfires. That explains why models suggest many more people will soon arrive here. My destination was the working-class city of Ypsilanti, and a meeting with Beth Gibbons, an urban planner and specialist in climate adaptation. Gibbons served as the founding executive director of a planning consortium called the American Society of Adaptation Professionals (ASAP), which was formed …

Fruit Chaos Is Coming – The Atlantic

Fruit Chaos Is Coming – The Atlantic

Summer, to me, is all about stone fruit: dark-purple plums, peaches you can smell from three feet away. But last summer, I struggled to find peaches at the farmers’ markets in New York City. A freak deep freeze in February had taken them out across New York State and other parts of the Northeast, buds shriveling on the branch as temperatures plummeted below zero and a brutally cold, dry wind swept through the region. The loss was severe. One farmer estimated that the Hudson Valley lost 90 percent of its stone fruit. Evan Lentz, a faculty member in the plant-science department at the University of Connecticut, told me his state lost 50 to 75 percent. Another freeze in the second half of May damaged lots of other crops, including strawberries and blueberries. In New Hampshire, apple growers who went to bed with orchards full of pink blossoms awoke to petals turning brown. Georgia, the iconic peach state, lost some 90 percent of last year’s crop—a Georgia summer without peaches, an unfathomable thing. An unusually warm …

Humanity Is Dangerously Pushing Its Ability to Tolerate Heat

Humanity Is Dangerously Pushing Its Ability to Tolerate Heat

Humanity’s superpower is sweating—but rising heat could be our kryptonite, and an average temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels could bring regular, fatal heat waves to large parts of the planet, says Tom Matthews, a senior lecturer in environmental geography at King’s College London. “We have evolved to cope with the most extreme heat and humidity the planet can throw at us,” he explains. But when our core temperature gets to about 42 degrees Celsius (around 107.5 degrees Fahrenheit), people face heat stroke and probable death as the body strains to keep cool and the heart works harder, inducing heart attacks. Matthews cites an example from his home country, the UK. In the summer of 2022, the UK broke its high temperature record, surpassing 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). The country saw nearly 60,000 deaths associated with the extreme heat—about the same number killed in England and Wales from Covid during 2020. “At 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming, the likes of Lagos, Karachi, [and] Shanghai start to experience heat waves exceeding …

Who Tests If Heat-Proof Clothing Actually Works? These Poor Sweating Mannequins

Who Tests If Heat-Proof Clothing Actually Works? These Poor Sweating Mannequins

Meet ANDI, the world’s sweatiest mannequin. Although he might look like a shop-floor stalwart from a distance, a closer glance reveals bundles of cabling and pipework concealed beneath his shell. He’s wired up with sensors, plumbed into a liquid supply, and dotted with up to 150 individual pores that open when he gets warm. It sounds gross, but it’s all by design—ANDI is a highly sophisticated, walking, and yes, perspiring mannequin, part of a range of body-analog dummies developed by Seattle-based firm Thermetrics. He made headlines recently—in mannequin circles, at least—because researchers at Arizona State University (ASU) are using an ANDI model to study how the human body reacts to extreme heat. An ANDI thermal mannequin being assembled.Photograph: Meron Menghisthab The year 2023 was the hottest since records began, and as the world gets warmer, clothing designers, car manufacturers, and militaries are among the groups scrambling to develop technology fit for purpose, whether it’s more breathable textiles or novel cooling solutions. “People are everywhere, and there are billions of dollars in capital trying to figure …

The Foods the World Will Lose to Climate Change

The Foods the World Will Lose to Climate Change

There’s no denying it: Farming had a rough year. Extreme weather spun up storms and floods, unseasonal freezes and baking heat waves, and prolonged parching droughts. In parts of the world in 2023, tomato plants didn’t flower, the peach crop never came in, and the price of olive oil soared. To be a farmer right now—or an agronomist or an agricultural economist—is to recognize how closely those weird weather events are linked to climate change. In fact, when the United Nations Climate Change Summit, known as COP28, ran in Dubai earlier this month, it featured a 134-country pact to integrate planning for sustainable agriculture into countries’ climate road maps. As the agriculture sector looks toward 2024, crop scientists are working to get ahead of ruinously unstable weather. They are envisioning adaptations for both growing systems and plants themselves. But time is not on their side. “Plant breeding is a slow process,” says James Schnable, a plant geneticist and professor of agronomy at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “It takes seven to 10 years to develop and …

Humans Are Innovating Our Way Out of Baby Season

Humans Are Innovating Our Way Out of Baby Season

As the chair of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at UT Southwestern Medicine, Catherine Spong is used to seeing a lot of baby bumps. But through her decades of practice, she’s been fascinated by a different kind of bump: Year after year after year, she and her colleagues deliver a deluge of babies from June through September, as much as a 10 percent increase in monthly rates over what they see from February through April. “We call it the summer surge,” Spong told me. Her hospital isn’t alone in this trend. For decades, demographers have documented a lift in American births in late summer, and a trough in the spring. I see it myself in my own corner of the world: In the past several weeks, the hospital across the street from me has become a revolving door of new parents and infants. When David Lam, an economist at the University of Michigan who helped pioneer several early U.S. studies on seasonal patterns of fertility, first analyzed his data decades ago, “we were kind …

Heat Could Make Recovery a Temporary State

Heat Could Make Recovery a Temporary State

For two years now, scientists, shellfish managers, and tribes have been working to understand how the heat dome that settled over the Pacific Northwest in the summer of 2021 affected the places where the ocean and land meet. That heat wave was like nothing in memory. Temperatures soaring as high as 121 degrees Fahrenheit buckled roads, melted power cables, and scorched forests. By the time the heat subsided, 650 people had died in the U.S. and Canada, and dead and dying shellfish and other marine critters littered beaches, cooking in their shells. Red algae were bleached white. Cockles tried to escape the heat by digging out of the sand, only to be greeted by more heat from the sun. Mussels gaped in an attempt to cool off. Tide pools became tubs of hot water. An estimated 1 billion marine animals perished in Canada alone. These creatures all inhabited the intertidal ecosystems that exist between the ocean’s high and low tide on both rocky and sandy shores. As the day and the tides turn, organisms there …

Earth’s Hot Oceans Are a Cosmic Tragedy

Earth’s Hot Oceans Are a Cosmic Tragedy

The ocean off the coast of southern Florida is having a long, hot summer. For weeks, surface temperatures hovered around 90 degrees Fahrenheit, before dropping to the 80s last week. The world’s third-largest barrier reef is dying, and scientists are fishing out coral samples and bringing them to the cool safety of laboratory tanks. One spot along the coastline hit triple-digit temperatures last month, conditions you would expect inside a hot tub. Some coastal Floridians skipped their usual dips in the ocean because it didn’t seem appealing anymore. Marine heat waves—periods of persistent and anomalously high temperatures of surface seawater—have materialized in other parts of the world too. The surface temperatures of about 44 percent of Earth’s oceans are currently experiencing extreme heat, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Some of that warming is to be expected, because 2023 is an El Niño year. But “all of these marine heat waves are made warmer because of climate change,” Dillon Amaya, a research scientist at NOAA’s Physical Sciences Laboratory, told me. June was already …