Scientists Warn Australian Cities Could Soon Be Uninhabitable Because of Extreme Heat
Climate scientists have warned that some Australian cities could become ‘virtually uninhabitable’ due to a combination of blistering heat and smothering humidity.
In the past week alone, surface temperatures in parts of Darwin’s inner city have been nudging 70C – and experts have told news.com.au that some regional cities in Queensland ‘may not be far behind’.
This year, Bureau of Meteorology senior climate liaison officer Greg Browning warned Darwin residents that ‘everything would be hotter than normal’ in the lead-up to the wet season.
Average temperatures all over the country have been shattering records all year, with Hobart’s recent run of six consecutive November days unparalleled in 130 years.
Sydneysiders are also in the midst of the warmest November week in nearly 50 years, ending a dismal run of rain and cooler temperatures.
A prolonged run of uninterrupted warm weather is due to hit the city with temperatures set to reach or exceed 25 degrees every day until the end of November.
‘The last time this happened in November was in 1968, and it’s only happened four times in the last 160 years,’ Weatherzone meteorologist Brett Dutschke said.
The last times Sydney basked in seven consecutive days of temperatures at or above 25 degrees were in 1968 and 1897.
The consistently warm weather is the result of a high-pressure system – known as a ‘blocking high’ – that is centered over the Tasman Sea and is stopping any strong cold fronts from moving up Australia’s east coast.
And it’s not just Sydney that’s rolling into summer – Melbourne residents have had sweltering spring temperatures for the past week, enduring the longest stretch of November days exceeding 28 degrees on record.
Australian National University’s Dr Elizabeth Hanna warned that the issue would mostly affect the Top End due to the tropical humidity.
‘We can cope with much higher temperatures in Melbourne because the air is drier, but in Darwin the high temperatures and humidity are oppressive.
‘If it gets worse, those unpleasant times of the year (like the build-up) will extend longer and longer making it not a viable place to live,’ she told the news site.
Professor Mattheos Santamouris explained that the way to combat climate change and battle rising temperatures is to ‘understand what is happening at a local level’.
He warns that if Australia can’t find a solution, the cities will eventually become ‘uninhabitable’.
But it’s not just the environment that will suffer – when it’s oppressively hot, people feel ‘crappy and grumpy’ which impacts on people’s social behaviour.
Three months ago, the Territory Government kicked off a project to see where Darwin’s hot spots were — and what was causing them — so they could cool down the CBD.
‘The study found our streets, parking lots, roofs and pavements have very high surface temperatures, ranging from 45-67C,’ said Chief Minister Michael Gunner at the time.
‘Areas such as the Post Office carpark, the Supreme Court car park, and the Bus Terminal are incredibly hot — Cavanagh Street (the CBD’s main thoroughfare) is a river of fire.’
Professor Samtamouris told news.com.au Darwin was a ‘classic case of an urban heat island’ where materials used in roads and buildings ‘turbocharged’ temperatures.
Excessively hot surface temperatures can raise the temperature around them – for instance, black bitumen can heat the air by around 3° – which is why Professor Samtamouris recommends more greenery in the city.
He also suggests building with alternative materials, like ‘cooling’ asphalt which works to bring own the surrounding air temperature.
The urban heat island effect is being felt most strongly in Darwin, but the rest of Australia may not be too far behind.
‘Townsville and Cairns are not as bad but they will start to become like Darwin. Everything is just moving to the extreme but we just don’t know exactly when or how fast it will happen,” warned Professor Hanna.
‘Global temperatures are going so badly and emissions are increasing so much that it’s not looking good.’
Planting more trees and creating shady streets was a good strategy to make cities more liveable, she said, but as temperatures continue to rise, there’s only so much that plants can do.
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