Environment

Asia Temperatures Hit Record Highs as Entire Globe Continues to Bake

North Korea, South Korea and Japan have been hotter than ever in recent weeks, just in time for a new report from NOAA telling us just how bad things are going to be in the future.


NOAA Summary of Selected Major Climate Events in 2017.
Photo: NOAA

The global heat wave is spreading now throughout northern Asia in the Koreas and Japan.

On Monday, July 23, Kumagaya, Japan, located in the Saitama prefecture 65 kilometers northwest of Tokyo, hit 41.1 degrees Centigrade (106 degrees Fahrenheit), the hottest temperature ever set in that country. At least 116 people died there connected with the high temperatures, where the weather was declared a natural disaster.

In downtown Seoul, South Korea, the temperature hit 35.7 degrees Centigrade (96.3 degrees Fahrenheit) on the same day. That was bad enough, but during the week of July 30, South Korea set its highest ever temperature in Daegu, a city in the south of the country. That temperature was 40.9 degrees Centigrade (105.7 degrees Fahrenheit). According to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 1,040 people in South Korea have fallen ill because of hot weather running from May 20th to the present. That represents an increase of 61 percent over the same period in 2017.

North Korea was hit even harder by its high temperatures. Pyongyang, the capital, hit 38 degrees Centigrade (100.4 degrees Fahrenheit), also a record high. And Chunggang, a town in North Korea along the demilitarized zone near where a major train route runs, temperatures hit 40.2 degrees Centigrade (104.4 degrees Fahrenheit). For North Korea, the problem is more serious for the general population than in either South Korea or Japan. The reason is that air conditioning is both less used and far less available than in the two more developed nations. Even where air conditioning is available, the electrical grid is also often not stable enough to support the surging demands in the region.

The high heat has also contributed to major agricultural problems in North Korea, with rice and maize yields way down. With sanctions still very much in place, when North Korea’s own crops die out or yields are down so dramatically as they are now, the population simply is not able to eat.

Like Japan, the North Korean government said the continuing record set of high temperatures was “an unprecedented natural disaster”.

As Asia joins the global heat wave phenomenon, the other thing happening in parallel is the rapid acceleration of carbon dioxide accumulation in the atmosphere. According to a just released report overseen by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and published by the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere just reached the highest levels “in the modern atmospheric measurement record and in ice core records dating back as far as 800,000 years”.

The new report, State of the Climate in 2017, was released August 1, 2018. According to data presented there, the global average concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in 2017 hit 405 parts per million (ppm), a 2.2 ppm increase from the previous year. Worse still was that other greenhouse gases, notably methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O), also hit new highs.

Greg Johnson, an oceanographer at NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle, notes that because of the current concentrations of greenhouse gases and the associated global warming that comes from it, even if the human race “stopped the greenhouse gases at their current concentration today, the atmosphere would still continue to warm for the next couple of decades to maybe a century”.

The new report points out that the 2017 being among the three hottest years ever and created “much warmer than average conditions” over much of the globe’s land masses and oceans. That has resulted in “unprecedented” coral bleaching, Arctic air temperatures which are currently “warming at a pace that was twice the rate of the rest of the world”, rapidly melting glaciers and ice masses, and dramatic tropical storms such as Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

The report also notes as part of its regional reports that that “the United States was impacted by 16 weather and climate events that each caused over $1 billion (U.S. dollars) in damages. Since records began in 1980, 2017 is tied with 2011 for the greatest number of billion-dollar disasters. Included in this total are the western U.S. wildfire season and Hurricanes Harvey, Maria, and Irma. Tornado activity in the United States in 2017 with above average for the first time since 2011, with 1,400 confirmed tornadoes."

Based on the trends in increasing greenhouse gas accumulation and the reality of the current global heat wave stretching around the globe going back as far as May, 2018 looks like it could end up with equally nasty weather before the summer storm seasons are over – especially in the United States. It is also clear than 2018 will go down in the record books as one of the hottest ever, if not the hottest yet.