First global study of heatwave deaths finds more than 153,000 heatwave-related deaths

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Last reviewed: 14.06.2024

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14 May 2024, 21:09

A Monash University-led study—the first to globally estimate heat wave-related deaths over a thirty-year period from 1990 to 2019—found that an additional 153,000+ warm-season deaths were attributed to heat waves, with nearly half of these deaths occur in Asia.

Compared to 1850–1990, global surface temperatures increased by 1.1°C in 2013–2022 and are expected to increase by a further 0.41–3.41°C by 2081–2100. With the increasing impact of climate change, heat waves are not only becoming more frequent, but also increasing in severity and scale.

The study, published in PLOS Medicine and led by Professor Yuming Guo of Monash University, examined daily death and temperature data from 750 locations in 43 countries or regions.

The study, conducted in collaboration with Shandong University in China, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in the UK and universities/research institutes in other countries, found that from 1990 to 2019, heat waves led to an increase in mortality of 236 deaths per ten million inhabitants during the warm season of the year. The regions with the highest heat wave-related deaths were in:

  • Southern and Eastern Europe
  • Areas with polar and alpine climates
  • Areas with high incomes

Locations with tropical climates or low incomes showed the greatest decline in heatwave-related mortality burden from 1990 to 2019.

Professor Guo said that in previous studies looking at increased mortality associated with heat wave exposure, "the evidence mainly came from limited locations."

“Our findings that heat waves are associated with significant mortality that has varied spatially and temporally around the world over the past 30 years suggest that there must be localized adaptation planning and risk management at all levels of government.”

According to the study authors, heat waves cause an increased risk of death due to heat stress overload on the human body and dysfunction of multiple organs, as well as heat exhaustion, heat cramps and heat stroke. Heat stress can also worsen existing chronic diseases, leading to premature death, mental disorders and other consequences.

The results of the work are described in detail in an article published in the journal PLoS Medicine.

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