The Effect of Heat Stress On The Planet | Author: Ellen Huston

Can global warming affect the way we feel? Evidence around the globe is showing that the amount of heat stress experienced by humans and animals across the Mediterranean region is increasing. The increase in the number of these incidences seem to coincide with the elevated levels of greenhouse gasses happening in the region.

Heat stress occurs whenever the internal temperature of the body achieves a high enough level that it results in stress on the internal organs of the body. Minor cases of heat stress can lead to dehydration but major cases of the condition can lead to heat stroke, which can kill.

There are three factors that, working together, result in heat stress. They are the temperature of the air, the humidity, and body motion. For the most part, air temperature is self explanatory, as the air temperature rises our body naturally gets warmer also. In humans, excess heat escapes through the skin. But high humidity makes evaporation of moisture from the skin more difficult, in effect making it harder for the body to get rid of heat.

Another factor that affects the head index is body movement. Any body movement at all generates heat. Intense movement, such as exercise, can generate a lot of heat. Slow movements, such as walking, generates a small amount of heat. An increase in any of these factors in isolation can heat up the body. An increase in all three factors together, creates prime conditions for heat stress.

In recent years, climate scientists and researchers have been extremely focused on creating and refining computerized environmental models in order to both predict as well as show the effects of climate change on various regions of the world. Naturally, heat stress and how plants, animals, and people react under high levels of heat are topics of intense interest. Using these models, researchers can create micro-climate conditions that match the real world and then apply various environmental effects to them to project what kinds of problems that they might trigger.

But, in an indirect way, heat stress impacts us and animals in other ways as well. In fact, one of the primary aims of the Mediterranean study was to look at the effects of heat stress on the milk production of sheep. The heat stress was modeled by using data from a local weather station. The results of the study was that average milk yield and the average protein yield decreased as the heat stress index increased. Further studies are ongoing on how heat stress affects crop yields.

The entire world is currently being  impacted by the phenomenon of heat stress. So much so that in recent years, it's estimated that the increase in greenhouse gasses in the Mediterranean has increased fivefold the incidences of heat stress by residents. If computer models are correct, and many scientists believe that they are, the problems that we're experiencing with heat stress are only the beginning.

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