State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

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Putting This Summer’s Record Global Heat Into Context

This summer saw global average temperatures that were unprecedented. June set a record for the hottest June. July set a record not just for the hottest July — but the hottest month ever since modern record keeping began in the 19th century. August came in second for the all-time record. The results: deadly heat waves, overheated ocean waters, massive wildfires.

To help put these phenomena into context, here are some of State of the Planet‘s most-read articles on extreme heat over the past few years, along with media reports about this year’s baking temperatures that quote Columbia Climate School experts.


Potentially Fatal Combinations of Humidity and Heat Are Emerging Across the Globe

by Kevin Krajick | May 8, 2020

Global map showing wet bulb temperatures
Map by Jeremy Hinsdale; adapted from Raymond et al., Science Advances, 2020. Interactive map

According to a new study, dangerous combinations of heat and humidity are already appearing across the globe. The study identifies thousands of previously rare or unprecedented bouts of extreme heat and humidity in Asia, Africa, Australia, South America and North America, including in the U.S. Gulf Coast region. Along the Persian Gulf, researchers spotted more than a dozen recent brief outbreaks surpassing the theoretical limit of human survival. The outbreaks have so far been confined to localized areas and lasted just hours, but they are increasing in frequency and intensity, say the authors.

Summer Heat Waves Caused Several Glaciers to Collapse

by Jaden Hill | September 13, 2022

During the summer heat waves of 2022, glaciers in the Italian Dolomites, Kyrgyzstan and central Switzerland experienced collapses due to the extreme heat. “This summer’s heat wave serves as a dramatic lesson, prompting multiple unexpected changes all at once,” author Jaden Hill writes.

You Asked: How Exactly Does Carbon Dioxide Cause Global Warming?

by Sarah Fecht | February 25, 2021

Over the past few years, we have received many questions about carbon dioxide — how it traps heat, how it can have such a big effect if it only makes up a tiny percentage of the atmosphere, and more. With the help of Jason Smerdon, a climate scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, we answer.

Afternoon heat mapping measurements in South Bronx

Study Maps Urban Heat Islands With Focus on Environmental Justice

by Jeremy Hinsdale | August 26, 2021

Buildings, roads and infrastructure all absorb and re-emit more of the sun’s heat than natural landscapes do. Combine a densely built environment with heat generated by human activities and you soon begin to see urban heat islands—inner-city zones where temperatures can be as much as 20 degrees F warmer than surrounding, vegetated areas. In summer 2021, researchers collaborated with citizen scientists to map the heat in parts of upper Manhattan and the Bronx at the street level for the first time.

Photo: Grant Harley/University of Idaho

1,000-Plus Years of Tree Rings Confirm Historic Extremity of 2021 Western North America Heat Wave

by Kevin Krajick | March 27, 2023

A tree ring study in Western North America indicated that the region’s summer 2021 heat wave was almost certainly the worst in at least the past millennium. “The unprecedented nature of summer 2021 temperatures across [the study area] suggests that no region is impervious to the economic and biological impacts of increasing summer temperatures,” wrote lead author Karen Heeter and colleagues.

The Fire This Time: Facing the Reality of Climate Change

by Steve Cohen | June 12, 2023

“Last week for a few terrifying days, we saw additional evidence of our interconnected biosphere. Fires burning about 400 miles from New York City turned the air orange and drove New Yorkers from their streets,” wrote author Steve Cohen. “People in other parts of America and other parts of the world are familiar with this phenomenon—New Yorkers were not. Now we are.”

Exposure to Deadly Urban Heat Worldwide Has Tripled in Recent Decades, Says Study

by Kevin Krajick | October 4, 2021

A new study of more than 13,000 cities worldwide has found that the number of person-days in which inhabitants are exposed to extreme combinations of heat and humidity has tripled since the 1980s. The authors say the trend, which now affects nearly a quarter of the world’s population, is the combined result of both rising temperatures and booming urban population growth. “This has broad effects,” said the study’s lead author, Cascade Tuholske. “It increases morbidity and mortality. It impacts people’s ability to work, and results in lower economic output. It exacerbates pre-existing health conditions.”

Photo: Radhika Iyengar

Are You Feeling the Heat Yet?

by Radhika Iyengar | May 3, 2022

A personal report on some of the ways climate change is impacting India, now the world’s most populous country. “My family members there report that hot air is burning their noses and their shoes are sticking to the road tar as it melts in the heat when they walk. It has become unbearable to live in many parts of India. And of course, people who are economically deprived will bear the brunt of this dangerous heat.”

Greener Ways to Keep Cool During a Heat Wave

by Renee Cho | August 3, 2018

“It is really important for people to try to stay cool during the summer heat and especially during heat waves, because heat can kill people and it can make people sick, and that includes even healthy young folks and athletes,” said Kim Knowlton of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. If you don’t have access to air conditioning, or opt not to use it, here are some greener strategies to keep cool. Hopefully they’ll also save you money on your electricity bill.

Columbia Climate School In The Media

  • New Research Shows Direct Link Between Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Polar Bear Decline
  • Extreme heat may speed up cognitive decline for certain people
  • Wildfires, hurricanes and heat: The U.S. is getting hit by extreme weather from all sides
  • Mediterranean Sea warming to ‘unprecedented’ levels amid global heat wave
  • Americans Flock to Areas With Harshest Climate Change Effects
  • Swaths of the US are living through a brutal summer. It’s a climate wake-up call for many
  • July’s heat waves, high ocean temperatures show extreme weather to come
  • Antarctica has a winter sea ice shortfall four times the size of Texas
Science for the Planet: In these short video explainers, discover how scientists and scholars across the Columbia Climate School are working to understand the effects of climate change and help solve the crisis.
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