published Thursday, August 15th, 2013

Extreme heat waves to quadruple by 2040, study says

The type of heat waves that wilt crops, torch forests — and kill people — are expected to become more frequent and severe over the next 30 years regardless of whether humans curb emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, according to a new study.

These are heat waves akin to those that baked many regions of the U.S. in 2012 and devastated crops in Russia in 2010. Such bouts of extreme heat are so-called "three-sigma events," meaning they are three times warmer than the normal climate of a specific region for weeks in a row.

Since the 1950s, the frequency of these events has "strongly increased and right now they cover about 5 percent of the global land area," Dim Coumou, a climate scientist with the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, told NBC News. The findings are published Thursday in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

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