My childhood summers in the Midwest were very hot. During the day, backyard sprinklers, popsicles, and water gun battles helped cool us down. At night, we would turn on window fans and wait for cooler air.
But those summer nights seem idyllic compared to the extraordinary heat waves that people all over the world are experiencing right now. This summer, thousands of new records were set not only for daily high temperatures, but also for the warmest overnight lows. Hot nights are dangerous because they rob people of the opportunity to cool off before the next sweltering day.
Scientists have long known that prolonged heat waves are more deadly than a short burst. New research suggests that People may not be able to take as much heat as once thought, reports soil and climate writer Carolyn Gramling in this issue. And those data come from young, healthy adults who were subjected to high temperatures for 1.5 to two hours under laboratory conditions. Older people, children, and people with medical conditions are most likely to face higher risks.
Many factors go into determining how dangerous heat is to humans, reports Gramling, including humidity, whether high heat is unusual for that location, such as in the Pacific Northwest, and whether the heat wave comes earlier in the summer , before people have time. to acclimatize These days, weather reports that say “It’s going to be hot outside” are often not enough to help people understand the risk and protect themselves.
There is no standard definition for when a heat wave becomes life-threatening. Scientists around the world are working on ways to standardize warnings and name heat waves like we do hurricanes (SN: 09/12/20, pg. 4). Those efforts, experts hope, will make it easier for people to know what they’re up against and prepare.
In this issue, we also explore how data collection in one field of science can provide unexpected insights into an entirely different question. In this case, researchers studying how pollution affects coral reefs off the coast of Puerto Rico installed underwater sensors a few months before Hurricane Maria hit in September 2017. The team thought the equipment was destroyed, reports freelance writer Martin J. Kernan. But the instruments not only survived, they also revealed unexpected changes in water flow and temperature that fueled the intensity of the storm.
And last month, a group of journalists from Latin America visited science news as part of an exchange program. They were very interested in how we cover climate change, including how we get readers to engage with a topic that can seem daunting and overwhelmingly technical. The Gramling and Kernan articles are excellent examples of how we do this. Climate change now touches almost every heartbeat our journalists cover, just as it touches all of our lives. If you’re not intrigued by how ocean currents influence hurricanes, you might enjoy learning about Six foods that may become more popular as the planet warms (NS: 5/7/22 and 5/21/22, p. 3. 4).
We also cover climate change and possible solutions through our science news explore website and new print magazine for readers ages 9 and up. We’ll keep you, and us more experienced readers, up to date on the latest innovative ideas that aim to ensure a better future for all of us.