Deadly heat waves could hit South Asia this century

Without action, climate change could devastate a region home to one-fifth of humanity, study finds.

By David L. Chandler
August 2, 2017

In South Asia, a region of deep poverty where one-fifth of the world’s people live, new research suggests that by the end of this century climate change could lead to summer heat waves with levels of heat and humidity that exceed what humans can survive without protection.

There is still time to avert such severe warming if measures are implemented now to reduce the most dire consequences of global warming. However, under business-as-usual scenarios, without significant reductions in carbon emissions, the study shows these deadly heat waves could begin within as little as a few decades to strike regions of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, including the fertile Indus and Ganges river basins that produce much of the region’s food supply.

The new findings, based on detailed computer simulations using the best available global circulation models, are described this week in the journal Science Advances, in a paper by Elfatih Eltahir, the Breene M. Kerr Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at MIT; Eun Soon Im, a former researcher at the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology and now a professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology; and Jeremy Pal, a professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.