Imagine a future where the hottest, most oppressively humid days of the year would be measured not in days or weeks but months. This is the alarming scenario outlined in a recent study conducted by UVA researchers that focused on nine countries in the Great Lakes region of East Africa.
Published this summer in the journal Climatic Change, the study drew on a sophisticated climate modeling system to predict how an average annual temperature increase of only a few degrees by the end of this century would be experienced by residents of the region in the form of “heat stress” days. These occur when apparent temperature (a measure of how hot it feels, based on both heat and humidity) rises above 102 degrees Fahrenheit.
The researchers projected that all the countries in the study region would experience an increase in heat stress days, and some dramatic increases. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, was projected to have “5-18 heat stress days every month of the year” by the end of this century. In other words, more than half the year could feel like 102 degrees.
Professor Deborah Lawrence of the Department of Environmental Sciences was principal investigator on the study, with UVA research associate Salvi Asefi-Najafabady as lead author. Lawrence says that a goal of the study was to frame the effects of climate change and global warming in human terms. To put the research in another perspective, Lawrence notes that under a similar modeling scenario applied closer to home, the Charlottesville area would experience an increase to some 85 annual days of temperatures higher than 90 degrees, from 30 days currently. “All of a sudden,” Lawrence says, “our summers look unbearable.”