There's nothing like summer in New York City, with free concerts in the park, little kids running around open fire hydrants and the overall feeling of being carefree.

However, the usually warm summers may take a grim turn, as a new study suggests that by 2080, hot summers could kill more than 3,000 NYC residents every year due to heat exposure.

Climate Change In New York City

An international team of researchers led by Elisaveta Petkova wanted to determine the effects of rising temperatures on the mortality of residents in New York City.

Petkova and her team accounted for factors such as future population, trajectories of greenhouse gases, air conditioning and public cooling centers that help residents adapt to heat. They analyzed data from 33 global climate models, adding two scenarios that show greenhouse gas concentrations.

Researchers predicted that the number of hot days in New York City could triple by 2080 and beyond. Dehydration, heat exhaustion and respiratory conditions could become the leading causes of mortality.

They predict that as many as 3,331 individuals could die every year 60 years from now due to heat exposure, especially when temperatures are above 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius).

Petkova said they were surprised at the wide range of possible public health impacts depending on the combination of adaptation, climate and demographic scenarios.

She said the projected number of annual heat-related deaths ranged from 167 to 3,331 in 2080 compared with 638 heat-related deaths between the year 2000 and 2006.

Petkova also compared the potential situation in New York City to a heat wave that occurred in Europe in 2003, which claimed the lives of thousands of people.

"If New York happens to experience something like this, which is more likely due to climate change, [with] more extreme heat events," says Petkova, "the consequences can be devastating."

How To Prevent Heat-Related Deaths From Climate Change

Researchers say there are two possible ways to prevent this worst-case scenario from happening.

First, fossil fuel emissions in New York City must be reduced. Petkova and her colleagues project that a decrease in fossil fuel emissions — and if the climate adheres to a moderate version of greenhouse gas trajectories — could lead to almost 2,000 fewer yearly heat-related deaths.

Another method is by offering residents more ways to adapt to the rising temperatures through interventions, including the development of more public cooling centers. High levels of adaptation could result in 1,198 fewer heat-related casualties, researchers said.

Although air conditioning is already prevalent in New York City, scientists suggest other ways in which the city could become resilient to heat, such as the installation of reflective roofs, tree planting and green infrastructure.

Details of the study are published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

Photo: Oscar Rohena | Flickr

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