It is getting hot in Death Valley

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Tiistai 18.8.2020 klo 17:26 - Mikko Nikinmaa

In early spring 1983 Death Valley was a pleasant place to visit. The annual rains were over and where water had flown just weeks earlier was now a stream of flowers. Where there still was water, it was so salty that salt started to crystallize on the strands of the small creeks. The creeks were full of small fish. which needed to reproduce before the disappearance of water. The temperature was about +30oC during the day and dropped to about +20 in the night.

IMG_20170725_0042.jpgI could not but think of those pleasant memories from about 40 years ago, when I read the news. The temperature in Death Valley had reached an all-time high, about +55 oC in shade. We Finns, who enjoy sauna at temperatures around +90 oC would call that Swedish sauna. However, even though we like our saunas much hotter than the recorded Death Valley temperature, it would not be possible to spend long periods of time in temperatures above +50 oC. Although there was a recent report that many more people die because of too low than too high temperature, saying that thus climate change-induced increase in mean temperature generally is beneficial to humans, promoting their survival, that doesn’t take into account many physiological effects on humans. Further, the general effects on animal and plant life are devastating.

Even if people die of cold, death does not occur, if clothing can be increased. In contrast, humans cannot live at temperatures above +50oC. One soon becomes dehydrated and it is not possible to drink adequate amount of water to prevent dehydration. The reason for dehydration is that humans try to regulate body temperature. If it increases above +42oC, the function of some vital proteins is affected so much that death ensues. The body temperature increases to a deadly level, if ambient temperature remains above +50oC for a day or two. The only way to avoid death is to use much energy in air conditioning, which is not possible in poor areas, and which contributes to the temperature increase with the present technology. The extremely high temperatures are not restricted to Death Valley, but similar shade temperatures have been recorded in Iran. In Australia and Southern Europe summer temperature above +40 are common and London recently recorded an all-time high of six days above +34oC. Even in Alaska temperatures above +30 have become common.

While the high temperatures are uncomfortable to humans, who can resort to air conditioning, they are deadly to wild animals, which do not have that alternative. Also, as I wrote in my previous blog, temperature increase will have huge adverse effect on fish stocks, which are envisioned to be a major protein source for humans in future. Further, plant growth is reduced drastically – it is simply too hot and enough moisture cannot be delivered for plant growth – it is no surprise that all the world’s hottest places are desert.

The temperatures reached all around the world indicate unequivocally that climate change is no fiction, and show that without drastic measures a large part of the planet can become uninhabitable. However, there is a silver lining to the Covid-19 pandemic. It has shown that drastic measures can be taken in most places. If climate change were considered to be a similar threat, which it certainly is (or much worse), then it would clear that actions much beyond Paris Treaty would be taken. And it is possible.

Avainsanat: climate change, temperature

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