Environment

Life at 50°C: New study reveals that extremely hot days have doubled in past 40 years

Days where the temperature exceeds 50C degrees have doubled since the 1980s, and now occur in more parts of the world, according to new analysis from the BBC.

The analysis was commissioned by the BBC World Service for their new series, Life at 50°C and carried out by BBC News’ data journalism unit. It reveals that temperatures reached 50C or more on 14 days per year on average between 1980 and 2009, but since 2010 the number of days that has surpassed the extraordinary temperature is now 26.

BBC News examined data across a forty-year period and found that the total number of days above 50C increased in each decade since 1980. The BBC’s research also found significant increases in maximum temperatures around the world. 

Days above 50C mostly occurred in places in the Middle East and the Gulf. Scientists expect even more areas to break the 50C mark in future.

The BBC’s Life at 50°C analysis also revealed that the number of days over 45C has increased by around two weeks per year on average when comparing the same forty-year period.

Dr Friederike Otto, a leading climate scientist from the University of Oxford, told the BBC that she believes the increase in the days and places above 50C “can be 100% attributed to the burning of fossil fuels.”

Extreme heat can make disasters, such as wildfires and droughts more likely, and can have devastating consequences for human health. It can also parch the land as higher temperatures boost evaporation from the soil. Increasing temperatures could even lead to many parts of the planet becoming too hot for people to live in.

Heat stress conditions could affect as many as 1.2 billion people around the world by 2100 if current levels of global warming continue, according to a Rutgers University study published last year. This figure is at least four times more than those affected today. 

The research was carried out to launch the BBC’s Life at 50°C. The series, which will run across BBC outlets and digital platforms, presents the reality of climate change through stories of people around the world and explores how communities living in cities and rural areas have had to adapt their lives to cope with extreme heat. It has been produced by BBC News Arabic, in collaboration with BBC News Mundo, BBC News Urdu, and BBC News Hindi as well as the BBC’s other Indian language services.

Highlights include four-half hour programmes on BBC World News TV channel and a collection of ambitious digital films on the BBC News YouTube channel, with stories filmed in Nigeria, Pakistan, Australia, Mexico, India, Mauritania, Iraq, and Gulf states.

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