Study maps areas of the world at risk of heatwaves

27 Apr 2023 by The Water Diplomat

A study published in Nature Communications on the 25th of April has identified which regions in the world are vulnerable to extreme heatwaves. Understanding vulnerability to heatwaves can be useful in the development of disaster risk reduction strategies and the planning of responses to such extreme weather events. Planning ahead can reduce mortality from climatic extremes, such as the development of city level heat plans that include reducing working hours for outdoor workers and establishing cooling centres.  With the advance of climate change, extremes are becoming more likely to occur, and therefore governments need to prepare for events that are actually beyond present records.   

One of the paradoxes of extreme events is that they are relatively rare, and therefore planning only tends to cover events that have already taken place. As a result, those regions of the world which can be considered lucky not to have experienced extreme weather, but which statistically are in fact at risk of experiencing such extreme weather, are particularly vulnerable.

The study, led by Dr Vikki Thompson at the School of Geographic Sciences of the University of Bristol, used data on extreme temperatures to show where regional temperature records are likely to be exceeded.  The study analysed the annual maximum temperature within the record of daily temperatures and observed which areas of the world experience relatively frequent return of record temperatures. The researchers also looked at areas where extreme temperatures have seemed implausible prior to a heatwave. They were able to catalogue the regions of the world where record breaking events are most likely. These areas were not particularly well defined geographically, in fact they are quite evenly spread out across the world. Most at risk is the far eastern part of the Russian Federation, Central America, Afghanistan, Papua New Guinea, Central Europe, north-western Argentina, the Queensland area in Australia, and the Bejing area in China.  Exceptional temperatures have been recorded regularly in 41 of the 136 areas of the world that were studied, such as Canada, the south west of the United States, southern Brazil and Paraguay, the U.K. and Scandinavia, Botswana and Namibia, the levant and the Arabian peninsula, central Siberia, southern India, and western Australia.