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NewsInternational Desk
An Earth on Fire! : Heatwaves in the Northern Hemisphere
Song Na-hyun  |  kikina2@cau.ac.kr
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승인 2018.10.04  17:36:09
트위터 페이스북 미투데이 요즘 네이버 구글 msn

            The earth is burning up. Recently, a remarkable heat wave has caused complaints all over the Northern Hemisphere. Not only in South Korea but in other countries as well, news about damage caused by the heat wave has been reported by the media. The damage caused by the remarkable heat wave, from the casualties to natural disasters, increases as the summer heat wave drags on. Some nations are suffering from enormous wildfires, others are having difficulty dealing with casualties. Why is the heat wave especially damaging in 2018? Let’s find out the causes and negative effects of this unprecedented heat wave and consider solutions for dealing with this painful heat wave.

Worldwide Disasters due to Heatwaves
Worldwide Abnormal Temperatures
           The heat wave began to be reported seriously in the media around the country in late June. In Europe, Britain had its driest June since 1925, and July was the country’s third hottest month in history. In northern Siberia, temperatures were 20 degrees above average and at the Arctic Circle, temperatures were equal to those in southern Spain. In North America, the record-breaking heat wave hit Canada in early July, and at the Death Valley, in the United States, the temperature on July 25 reached a roasting 52.7 degrees. All across Asia, there have also been strange heat-related phenomena. In Japan, the temperature exceeded 40 degrees for the first time, with a record high of 40.8 degrees. In Quriyat, a city in Oman, temperatures did not drop below 42.6 degrees for 24 hours straight. Temperatures like these show the suffering that has been experienced in many countries in the Northern Hemisphere. In other words, this year's heat wave is not just the problem of one individual country.
Global Damage from the Heat Wave
           To begin with, the heat wave has caused worldwide wildfires to grow out of control. One fire, which began on July 13 at Merced River Canyon, in the U.S., has grown bigger and gradually spread to Yosemite National Park, resulting in damage to parts of the park and to the casualty of a park ranger. In Sweden, wildfires broke out on July 15. While the Nordic country of Sweden had been one of the few areas where heat waves were particularly rare, wildfires have spread nationwide this year due to an unusual heat wave and drought. After struggling to contain the forest fires, officials in Sweden finally called for firefighting assistance from neighboring UN countries, and Italy and Norway urgently sent fire helicopters in response. An announcement from the European fire information system, which stated that fires in Sweden are 57 times higher this year than the previous year, indicates the seriousness of the wildfires in Sweden.
           In addition, heat waves have a great effect on transportation in cities and regions across the northern hemisphere. In South Korea, Yeon-hap News reported that on July 31, many trains were delayed due to heat-induced deformation of the rail tracks. In Germany, the heat wave transformed airport runways, causing disruptions to many flights.
           Lastly, the heat wave has caused many casualties around the world. In Japan, 125 people died this year due to the heat, while 89 casualties due to thermal diseases were reported between Jun 30 and Jun 7 in Quebec, Canada. Meanwhile, the worldwide damage caused by this year's heat wave has been magnified by less rainfall.
The Causes of Remarkable Heatwaves
Jet Stream
           Many climate experts have identified jet streams as one of the biggest reasons for this year’s heat wave. The jet stream refers to the high levels of air flow that occur in the earth's tropospheric or upper atmosphere. The currents of the jet stream are formed between large air masses, which have big differences in temperatures, as the atmosphere is heated up by the sun and the Earth’s rotation, and they influence regional air pressure and weather patterns.
In Western Europe, where the heat wave has caused a lot of damage, the location of jet currents that determine the weather has been a problem. According to Professor Dann Michael of the University of Bristol, if a jet stream in Western Europe is usually located in the north of the United Kingdom, a high-pressure environment is formed, which is dry and hot. To make matters worse, the dry heat wave has become worse in this year, with the weak jet stream pushing out the developed high pressure.
This weakened jet stream, much farther north of Britain this year than usual, has helped deliver the hot air of Western Europe to North America. According to BBC meteorologist Benn Rich, the weak jet stream sent air across the United States and Canada, which also spread dry heat waves throughout North America. The weather is very weird in that it is usually seen in western California in September.
Greenhouse Gas
In fact, the unprecedented heat wave and other problems all start with global warming. In academia, it has long been established that man-made greenhouse gases are responsible for global warming. One academic article, Dramatically increasing chance of extremely hot summers since the 2003 European heatwave, Nature Climate Changes, by Christidis, N. et al. (2014), studied how humans affect temperature, precipitation and other weather parameters by setting and simulating two climate models. The study compared two climate models, including only natural variables (Figure 1) and both artificial and natural variables (Figure 2), respectively. The result of the study was shocking, as red graph in both figures (which means the actual temperatures) did not match with the black line (which means the temperature including variables) in figure 1. It means that the current abnormal temperature could not be explained with the climate model only including natural variables. In other words, the main cause of the abnormal temperature is man-made variables. The study also showed that if people do not make any effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the remarkable heat wave that comes once every 50 years could come as often as every five years.
What the study by Christidis’s team suggests supports what Peter Stott, who monitors climate change at the Met Office Hadley Centre, has said before: “It’s important to say also that the trajectory of future climate depends very much on whether mankind continues to increase emissions or whether it is possible to reduce those emissions.” In other words, from now on, if we humans do not put any efforts to reduce greenhouse gas, the frequency and intensity of the disasters caused by the heat wave are likely to increase.
Problems of the Long-term Heatwaves
Food Shortage Problem
           Continuing heat waves cause droughts, resulting in the fatal problem of not having enough agricultural water to grow crops. According to a recent report by the International Board of Grains, the production of wheat is expected to decrease by 5 percent compared to the previous year. In addition, the sharp drop in crop yields lead to soaring wheat prices, recording higher prices in both the United States and Europe. Furthermore, the critical strike in the crops is linked to the livestock that feed on it. In Britain, media reports say, the heat wave this year is causing a surge in damage to cattle farmers. According to the cattle farmers, as the price of wheat, on which their cows feed, has skyrocketed, many British farms are either killing cows early or giving them hay in the winter. As heat waves continue to affect the supply of crops and livestock, eventually they can lead to food shortages around the world.
Power Outage Problem
           Most power outages occur during the summer. This is because many people run air conditioners at the same time to avoid heat waves. In fact, the power outage in Australia and Taiwan caused more than 50 percent of the entire population to be stuck for a long time in the dark during hot weather. This is not only a foreign matter. In South Korea, media coverage related to power outages are often found in every summer.
Mental Health Problem
The heat wave threatens not only one's physical condition but also one's mental health. On July 23, Nature, a prominent science magazine, reported a correlation between temperature and suicide rate. The new study brings together U.S. suicide rate data from 1968 to 2004 and Mexican suicide rate data from 1990 to 2004 and compares them with temperature and precipitation data for those years. The comparison shows that when the suicide rate in the United States and Mexico rises by an average of 1 degree a month, the suicide rate also goes up.
All of Society Members Should Act for Heatwaves
           The governments and multinational corporations, which have felt the seriousness of the environmental problems with the heat wave, are also trying to come up with countermeasures. In particular, U.K., which was heavily damaged by the remarkable heat wave released a new version of the National Adaptation Program (NAP) with page 128 on July, a response to the increasingly serious problems of heat waves, droughts and floods. In addition, many companies have begun to come up with measures to reduce plastics, which are considered one of the causes of global warming. Starbucks, which has branches all over the world, recently announced in the media that it will eliminate disposable plastic in its stores around the world by 2019. Disney Land, which has a world-class theme park, also announced that it would convert plastic straws into recyclable straws by 2020. The actions of governments and global companies indicate that environmental issues are something that we all need to solve.
           After all, the recent record heat wave is an extension of recent environmental problems. Despite numerous warnings that the Earth has sent, mankind has not been very interested in them. And it ended up with negative consequences that threatened the lives of humans. With the forecast that the heat wave will last for a while, you need to pay extra attention to your health, even more than usual. However, as much as you worry about your health, you also need to become interested in environmental issues now. As the actor, Leonardo Di Caprio once said, ‘Our planet's alarm is going off, and it is time to wake up and take action!’ Indeed, we need to act for the environmental issues now. Paying attention to the environment will be a starting point to protect the environment and all of us.
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