Heat waves are a real ‘World’ problem. Not just for us city dwellers here in New York City, but for all people around the world, rising temperatures and record-breaking sustained highs in temperature are being recorded all over. There are many studies providing evidence in favor of global warming’s real-world repercussions and many clear contributing factors to climate change. Some of the contributing factors to heat waves are the same found at fault for climate change.
There is a strong connection between heat waves and the heat-trapping greenhouse gases. Because these gases are trapped in the atmosphere, the heat can’t escape. That’s why the ice caps in the Arctic are melting, and that melting alters the jet stream, which, when normal keeps temperatures cool. Heat waves occurring around the world are causing a wide range of adverse effects including death, having a higher death toll count than most of the other natural disasters combined excluding hurricanes. Heat waves kill more than 600 people per year.
But what is a heat wave? is what I asked myself when I had first decided to look deeper into heatwaves. I found that it is better to ask, “what qualifies as a heat wave?” Heat waves defined by temperature is relative to the location on earth where it occurs Different locations have different temperature thresholds which would be considered heat waves in relation to that location’s normal temperature range. So, for places that are experiencing sustained high temperatures and higher lows at night than their normal range of temperature for at least 2 days, what their experiencing can be considered a heat wave. I investigated places like Australia and Europe where the temperature reaches heights over 114o F and clearly saw the problem with its direct affect on humans and the onset of Heat stress related heath conditions. But for places starting with a low normal range of temperature that get an increase of 10 to 14 degrees I thought ‘That’s not so bad.’ But the reality is that native crops and wild life in every location on the earth is used to and requires a specific temperature range which is disrupted by heat waves. Before thinking that 2 days of extreme heat is nothing to worry about consider that in many cases air conditioning is not an option.
The effects that arise from a heat wave just days long can see noticeable reductions in crop yield and farm animal conception which directly affects our source of food. Crops, regardless of location in the world, thrive through a cycle of absorbing sunlight during the day and using the night to cool off and recover. The problem with high lows and higher highs is that it prevents crops from maximizing the time of recovery. In addition to that, Farm animals that in most cases don’t have the same physical means to alleviating the effects of extreme heat which includes sweating and air conditioning, are at a higher risk than us for succumbing to heat stress. What is heat stress? When an organic body is subjected to high temperatures and is unable to release that heat causing a list of physical and mental ailments. Heat stress for farm animals according to several studies causes a reduction in the general growth and conception rate. But for humans our experience with heat stress can be just as bad especially when extreme heat is coupled with humidity. When it is humid it is harder for sweat to evaporate and cool the body by releasing heat. When we experience heat, we put ourselves in danger of experiencing heat strokes, organ failure by dehydration, heart attacks and other possibly fatal ailments.
But what causes heat waves and why are they happening more frequently and intensely? The first cause to look at is our main source of heat and light, the sun. Areas where sun light heats the air via the earth’s surface hot air is attempting to rise as it naturally does. But in some cases, there are high pressure systems above and around the heated area keeping the heat relatively in the same place creating a condensed space and trapping in more heat. This hinders the convection cycle which would naturally remedy this build-up of heat which is why heat waves last so long. These high-pressure systems are heavily influenced by jet streams which are hundreds of meters wide. Jet streams are found just below the Tropopause which is found between the Troposphere and the Stratosphere. The main Jet streams are found in the northern and southern hemispheres and their high speeds are a result of the stark contrast of temperature between the two poles and the warmer middle area of the earth. When the level of contrast between these two spaces is reduced the speed of the jet stream is reduced. When that occurs, the speed at which high-pressure systems move across the earth is slowed.
This is all to say that heat waves are an earth issue and evidently linked to global warming which is a world-wide epidemic. There are many studies providing evidence in favor of global warming’s real-world repercussions and many clear contributing factors to climate change. Some of the contributing factors to heat waves are the same found at fault for climate change and I am excited to explore the many environmental, societal and scientific factors of heat waves, the world’s silent killer.
- Mersereau, D. (2017). What Is the Jet Stream, and How Does It Work? Retrieved from http://mentalfloss.com/article/503501/what-jet-stream-and-how-does-it-work
- Anita Wreford & W. Neil Adger (2010) Adaptation in agriculture: historic effects of heat waves and droughts on UK agriculture, International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability, DOI: 3763/ijas.2010.0482
- Blackshaw JK Blackshaw AW (1994) Heat stress in cattle and the effect of shade on production and behaviour: a review. Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture