Heat related deaths due to climate change may be underestimated
Release Date 10 March 2009
By the end of this century, the number of people dying from the effects of heat in the world's big cities could be double what has been previously estimated. So concludes a study by researchers at King's College London and the Met Office which will be presented for the first time at the Climate Congress in Copenhagen today.
Simon Gosling, previously based at King's College London and now with the Walker InstituteUniversity of Reading, said: "On average, about 120 deaths occur each summer due to high temperatures in London. Our study shows that by the 2080s this could increase to nearly 500 as a result of climate change, even allowing for some acclimatisation to higher temperatures.
"Unlike previous studies, we take account of the likely increase in day to day temperature variability and this increases the number of deaths. Previous studies, which have ignored this effect, are likely to underestimate deaths by around a half."
Dr Glenn McGregor, formerly Professor of Physical Geography at King's College London and now at the University of Auckland says: "Our work shows how the risks from heat-related deaths in cities are likely to increase in future. Recent events experienced during the Australian Open in Melbourne show how vulnerable city populations can be to high temperatures. Cities need to be prepared for periods of very high temperatures, the probability of which is likely to increase in a warmer world. "
The study is the first of its kind to take account of the likely increase in day to day temperature variability which significantly increases the frequency of extremely hot days. Previous estimates have considered only an increase in average temperature and are therefore likely to have underestimated the number of deaths that could result from hotter conditions in cities.
Increasing temperatures cause particular problems for cities where the buildings and roads act like a giant storage heater often making cities several degrees warmer than the surrounding countryside. Very hot conditions can cause death because of cardiovascular and respiratory problems, particularly in vulnerable groups such as the very young and the very old, especially if socially isolated.
As well as looking at London, the study also considers other cities around the world: Sydney, Lisbon, Budapest, Boston and Dallas.
To arrange interviews with Simon Gosling in Copenhagen please contact University of Reading press office on 0118 378 7388 / 07834 006 243
Notes to editors:
The work is being presented at Climate Congress in Copenhagen, 10-12th March. Based on the following paper:
Climate change and heat-related mortality in six cities Part 2: climate model evaluation and projected impacts from changes in the mean and variability of temperature with climate change Simon N. Gosling & Glenn R. McGregor & Jason A. Lowe Int J Biometeorol DOI 10.1007/s00484-008-0189-9
S. N. Gosling : G. R. McGregor, Department of Geography, King's College London, London, UK S. N. Gosling (current affiliation), Walker Institute for Climate System Research,University of Reading G. R. McGregor (current affiliation), School of Geography, Geology and Environmental Science, The University of Auckland, New Zealand J. A. Lowe The Met Office Hadley Centre, Exeter, UK