Researchers say more adaptation is needed to deal with increasing heatwaves
By Summit Voice
FRISCO — Even the northern climes of Sweden are feeling the heat. Public health researchers at Umeå University say increased temperatures caused by ongoing climate change in Stockholm, Sweden between 1980 and 2009 caused 300 more premature deaths than if the temperature increase did not take place.
In Sweden as a whole, it would mean about 1,500 more premature deaths, according to the findings, published recently in the journal Nature Climate Change. As is well-known, global warming increases the frequency, intensity and duration of heat waves. Previous studies have shown that these changes are associated with increased mortality, especially during extremely hot periods. At the same time, generally warmer temperatures may decrease the mortality associated with extreme cold.
Researcher Daniel Oudin Åström said that, despite the long-standing debate about climate change, Swedes have not changed their attitude and willingness to protect themselves against extreme temperatures.
“The study findings do not suggest any adaptation of the Swedes when it comes to confronting the increasingly warmer climate, such as increased use of air conditioning in elderly housing,” Oudin Åström said. “It is probably because there is relatively little knowledge in regards to increased temperatures and heat waves on health.”
To conduct their research, the scientists compared temperatures in the study period (1980-2009) with corresponding data for the period 1900 to 1929.
The study shows that the number of periods of extremely high temperatures increased significantly over the period 1980-2009, all of which contributed to about 300 more deaths during these heat waves than had been the case without climate change.
“Mortality associated with extreme heat during the relevant period was doubled, compared to if we had not had some climate change,” said Oudin Åström, a PhD student in occupational and environmental medicine. “Furthermore, we saw that even though the winters have become milder, extremely cold periods occurred more often, which also contributed to a small increase in mortality during the winter.”
Although the increase in the number of deaths due to extreme temperature overall is quite small over a 30 year period, Oudin Åström emphasized that the current study only includes the Stockholm area. If the method had been used in the whole of Sweden, or Europe, the increase in the number of deaths would have been much larger.
In addition, the researchers only examined mortality in really extreme temperatures. Therefore, the number of premature deaths caused by less extreme temperatures is not included in the study.