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Paris sizzles, Mediterranean wilts from global warming

By Mira Oberman (Agence France Press) - June 24, 2007

Paris will sizzle and much of the Mediterranean will wilt according to a new study which raises alarm bells about the heat the region will take from global warming.

Today’s hottest days could become some of the summer’s coolest days by the end of the 21st century if the current rate of carbon dioxide emissions continues, the authors warn.

Once-rare heat waves, like that of 2003 which killed 15,000 in France, will become more intense and more common as the number of dangerously hot days in the region increases 200 to 500 percent.

That’s as many as 49 more unbearable days in Paris, 48 more scorchers in Athens and Valencia, Spain and 55 more broilers in Tel Aviv, the study projects.

“You wouldn’t want to be here in the summer,” study co-author Jeremy Pal said in a telephone interview from the International Center for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy.

The study offers the first look at how individual cities will fare in the region as global temperatures rise an estimate average of three degrees by 2100.

The Mediterranean is one of the areas most susceptible to climate change and is expected to experience more warming and drying than other parts of the world.

Researchers built a model which could pinpoint the impact of climate changes in small areas and found sharp differences in how various parts of the Mediterranean would respond.

Temperatures would soar the most in France, with daily highs rising as much as 8.5 degrees, compared with increases of about four to seven degrees elsewhere.

Humid coastal areas would be more severely affected than inland areas while areas with higher elevations, such as the Alps, will fare the best.

The number of days where the heat index reaches dangerous levels would rise by an average of 40 more days a year along the coasts of Portugal, Spain, southern Italy and much of the southern and eastern shores of the Mediterranean, the study projected.

In the interiors of Spain and southern France, there could be an extra 20 to 30 days of dangerous heat while much of Europe could see another 10 to 15 dangerously hot days.

“These are mean temperatures,” warned Pal, a professor at Loyola Marymount University in California.

“On an extreme year it could be two months.”

Significant cuts to greenhouse gas emissions can reduce the intensity of these heat waves, the study found.

But temperatures in the Mediterranean will still likely rise to the point where they pose threats to human health, agriculture and economic stability, the authors concluded.

“We find that decreases in greenhouse gas emissions greatly reduce the impact, but we see negative effects even with reduced emissions,” said Noah Diffenbaugh, a professor at Purdue University in Indiana who led the study.

“Technological and behavioral changes that are made now will have a big influence on what actually happens in the future.”

The researchers explored two commonly accepted scenarios developed by the International Panel on Climate Change: one showing what will happen if there is little change to current emissions policies and another showing what will happen if there are significant improvements.

The greener scenario projects that concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would rise just 62 percent by 2100. The standard scenario projects a 123 percent increase.

Trimming emissions would reduce the increases in average high temperatures by one to 2.5 degrees, with Eastern Europe, Turkey and North Africa seeing the greatest gains.

So instead of rising seven or eight degrees, average high temperatures in France would increase by only six or seven degrees.

In Greece, Turkey and Algeria, high temperatures would rise around 3.5 to 4.5 degrees instead of five to seven degrees.

There would also be up to a 50 percent reduction in the intensification of dangerously hot days, the study found.

In Isparta, Turkey the increased number of dangerously hot days would drop to 39 from 62 while Rome would see 30 more hot days under a reduced emissions scenario as opposed to 43 more days if emissions policies remain the same.

The study was published in the June 15 issue of Geophysical Research Letters.