The residents of Manhattan and New York are already feeling the effects of global warming after experiencing Hurricanes Irene and Superstorm Sandy. But more is in store with more frequent large storms, rising sea levels, and higher temperatures and heatwaves in summer. The latest scientific study identifies that rising temperatures and heatwaves are likely to substantially increase temperature related deaths in the city.
The study by public health and climate reserachers at Columbia University in New York projects that in the 2020s there will be a mean increase of about 20 percent in deaths due to heat, set against a mean decrease of about 12 percent in deaths due to cold, with a net result of a 5 or 6 percent increase in overall temperature-related deaths. Heat related mortality is expected to rise steeply in projections for the 2050s and 2080s, despite alternate emissions scenarios. The worst case scenario is projected to cause over 1,000 annual heat related deaths by rising temperatures and heatwaves.
"This serves as a reminder that heat events are one of the greatest hazards faced by urban populations around the globe," said coauthor Radley Horton, a climate scientist at the Earth Institute's Center for Climate Systems Research. Horton said that people need look no further for the potential dangers than the record 2010 Russian heat wave that killed some 55,000 people. The 2003 Central and western European heatwave, which is estimated to have killed 70,000 people, was subsequently shown to be at least partially attributed to Climate change. (Human contribution to the European heatwave of 2003 (PDF)).
Daily records from Manhattan's Central Park show that average monthly temperatures already increased by 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit from 1901 to 2000--substantially more than the global and U.S. trends. Cities tend to concentrate heat; buildings and pavement soak it up during the day and give it off at night. Many records have been set in Manhattan recently; 2012 was its warmest year on record, and in each of the past three years, it has seen temperatures at or above 100 degrees F. Projections for the future vary, but all foresee steep future average increases : 3.3 to 4.2 degrees F more by the 2050s, and 4.3 to 7.1 degrees by the 2080s.
Caption: Supplemental Figure 4. Projected Percentage Change of Monthly Additional Deaths in the 1980s versus the 2020s, 2050s and 2080s under A2 and B1 Scenarios. 1980s is the reference period. September and May show the largest increase.
The study also found that the largest percentage increase in deaths would come not during the traditionally sweltering months of summer in June through August, but rather in May and September when temperatures are now generally more pleasant. The impact of extreme temperature periods outside our normal seasonal expectations is greater. In effect, we are less resilient to these heat extremes, resulting in less precautions being taken to minimise health risk.
"Monthly analyses showed that the largest percentage increases may occur in May and September. These results suggest that, over a range of models and scenarios of future greenhouse gas emissions, increases in heat-related mortality could outweigh reductions in cold-related mortality, with shifting seasonal patterns." said the study.
The increase in hot weather will also result in increasing economic costs of reduced work capacity due to heat stress.
But the projected results are somewhat dependant on what climate mitigation action is taken on global and national levels to constrain carbon pollution and CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions. There has been little concerted global action so far with the World Bank report in 2012 warning with business as usual we could be in store for a climate meltdown of 4 to 6 degrees Celsius of average global warming by the end of the century. Cities like New York with a substantial urban heat Island effect will endure even higher temperature increases.
Due in part to Hurricane Irene and superstorm Sandy, New York is also a city aware of the need to adapt to changing climate conditions with an extensive program of street trees, air-conditioned refuges during heatwaves, and more public awareness of the dangers to vulnerable people in extreme temperature conditions. While these adaptations may reduce the trend somewhat in making people more 'heat resilient', the heat related death rate is still likely to rise.
The increase in heat related mortality experienced in New York will also occurr in Moscow to Melbourne, London to Los Angeles, Barcelona to Brisbane. There are quite a few studies whereby Climate Change Analysis Predicts Increased Fatalities from Heat Waves.
Watch Dr Paul Epstein from the Harvard Medical School on Extreme Heat on Youtube from January 2011 below:
An innovative study (Cunrui Huang et al (2012)) on The impact of temperature on 'years of life lost' in Brisbane, Australia, projected the potential impact climate change will have in terms of life years for people that live in Brisbane. It found that temperature-related deaths currently account for 6,572 years of life lost per year in Brisbane, almost double the rate for breast cancer.
Study co-author Associate Professor Adrian Barnett of Queensland University of Technology's Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation (IHBI), said in a media release things would only get worse as Climate Change continued. "A 2°C increase in temperature in Brisbane between now and 2050 would result in an extra 381 years of life lost per year in Brisbane," he said. "A 4°C increase in temperature would result in an extra 3,242 years of life lost per year in Brisbane," he warned.
More superstorms in store for New York as sea levels rise
New York will also bear the brunt of innundation and catastrophic flooding by the end of this century. With sea levels rising as mountain glaciers, Greenland and Antarctic Ice sheets melt, global sea level could rise four feet (1.2 meters) by the 2080s, according to Klaus Jacob, a research scientist at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. In New York City by 2100 "it will be five feet, plus or minus one foot," Jacob said according to a Scientific American report.
The sea level rise will also increase the odds of a "one-in-a-hundred-year" storm such as superstorm Sandy hitting New York. The odds will rise to one in 50 by the 2020s, one in 15 in the 2050s and one in two by the 2080s, according to Jacob as reported by the Sydney Morning Herald. Due to regional conditions sea levels are rising 3 to 4 times faster on the US Atlantic coast than the global average.
The flooding and storm surges caused by Sandy resulted in more than $1 billion in damage to wastewater treatment plants and the release of raw and undertreated sewage into adjoining waterways causing a public health issue.
Earlier this month, on May 2, Governor Cuomo announced federal funds allocated by the EPA for mitigation projects following superstorm Sandy. The initial $600 million allocated was reduced by 5% in the sequestration of federal spending programs. New York was allocated 59.7% of that remaining, $340 million, with the remaining 40.3% allocated to New Jersey.
"These funds will allow localities across the state to repair vital infrastructure damaged by Superstorm Sandy - as well as to build back smarter and stronger to better withstand future natural disasters and flooding," Governor Cuomo said. "It is absolutely crucial that we fortify our drinking water and wastewater systems with equipment and features to ensure plants are operational during and after major storms and that the water flowing to the businesses and homes of New Yorkers is safe and protected."
Basic improvements to water and wastewater systems to protect against future floods is a start. But flood proofing New York will prove an expensive proposition. Building storm surge barriers will be very expensive costing billions in engineering defences. With sea level continuing to rise for hundreds of years, flood defences will eventually be swamped.
The cost of adapting to the impacts of climate change is in effect paying a carbon tax, without some of the benefits a carbon tax would bring in increasing the cost of pollution and reducing carbon emissions. The damage inflicted by climate related extreme weather and sea level rise is In effect paying a carbon tax that will steadily grow with time. But it is a tax on the people rather than a tax on those companies and industries that cause the pollution. And the heaviest burden of expense will fall on those who suffer the most. All the while the US Congress refuses to consider the equitable advantages in introducing a price on carbon. New York Times columnist Tom Friedman suggests a carbon tax for a big idea in How to Put America Back Together Again. (Listen to Tom on Boston National public radio 90.9wbur OnPoint with Tom Ashbrook)
Climate change will impact the poor and developing nations hardest - like the small island nations threatened with submergence such as the Maldives, Tuvalu, Tonga Kiribati to name a very few - who can least afford to put in place expensive adaptation plans. In New York it will be the poor and destitute, particularly the elderly, who will suffer the greatest impact from heatwaves and heat related deaths, who will be most impacted by flooding and power outages caused by extreme weather.
- Eurekalert Media Release May 19, 2013, Heat-related deaths in Manhattan projected to rise
- Tiantian Li, Radley M. Horton & Patrick L. Kinney, Nature Climate Change (2013) doi:10.1038/nclimate1902, Projections of seasonal patterns in temperature- related deaths for Manhattan, New York
- Graphics from Supplementary Information, Courtesy Li et al (2013)