Startling new research has claimed that some regions of the Persian Gulf could be almost uninhabitable by the end of the century. The study, published in Nature Climate Change, found that a combination of factors, including human-caused CO2 emissions, could make locations like Abu Dhabi and Dubai extremely dangerous for humans by 2071.
The paper was co-authored by Jeremy Pal of Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and Elfatih Eltahir of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). They described how, according to their research, the wet bulb temperature would soon increase beyond what is considered safe for humans in and around the Persian Gulf.
The wet bulb temperature is essentially a measure of both heat and humidity, not wholly dissimilar to the better-known Heat Index. “The human body regulates its core temperature to around 37°C (99°F), and its skin temperature to a cooler 35°C (95°C),” Pal said at a press conference. The body then regulates its temperature by shedding metabolic heat to the environment, via processes such as sweating.
“However, if the ambient wet bulb temperature exceeds 35°C, the human body is no longer able to cool itself, and it begins to overheat,” Pal explained. Exposure to this temperature for more than six hours can result in hyperthermia and, ultimately, death.
This map shows the wet bulb temperature extremes predicted around the Persian Gulf. Pal/Eltahir/Research Square.
A wet bulb temperature above 35°C – which very roughly corresponds to about 180°F on the Heat Index scale – has never been recorded on Earth. In their simulations, though, the researchers found that if carbon dioxide emissions continued at a “business as usual” level without significant mitigation, then this threshold would be surpassed at least once, and possibly several times, around the Persian Gulf between 2071 and 2100.
Summer temperatures above a wet bulb temperature of 31°C, meanwhile, will become the norm rather than occurring once every 20 days currently, making living conditions especially uncomfortable. Areas around the Red Sea and Arabian Sea are also at risk, and people of all ages would be affected.
“We project that these conditions are likely to happen much sooner than thought before, towards the end of this century,” Eltahir said at the press conference. The reason for the drastic increase is due to a combination of persistently clear skies, a strong absorption of sunlight, and high evaporation rates, which maximize the flow of heat in the region. The extremely warm sea surface of the Persian Gulf, which has warmed significantly in the past 60 years, also plays a major part.
Above is a video explanation of the research. Research Square/YouTube.
The authors note that if mitigation activities are carried out, scenarios where the wet bulb temperature exceeds the safe threshold can be avoided. One only needs to look at a recent heat wave in India, which has claimed thousands of lives, to see how serious of an issue this could be.
Without mitigation efforts, the researchers note in their paper that climate change “is likely to severely impact human habitability” in the Persian Gulf in the future.