Heat Waves Could Make South Asia Unlivable by 2100

Debasish Ghosh, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Debasish Ghosh, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Scientists say increasing greenhouse gas emissions in densely populated parts of South Asia will push temperatures past the "upper limit on human survivability." They published their findings in the journal Science Advances.

The human body can only withstand so much heat, and the authors of the current paper note that 35°C (95°F) pushes that upper limit. Anything above that will result in death "even for the fittest of humans under shaded, well-ventilated conditions."

This 95°F maximum is what's called a wet bulb (TW) measurement. Like the heat index, TW considers humidity as well as air temperature, which means it's a more accurate measurement of how well our bodies can naturally cool themselves down. The muggier the climate, the higher the TW. And in places like India, the TW is pretty darn high.

The research team combined climate data from Pakistan, Nepal, India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka with information about current and estimated future greenhouse gas emissions in those countries.

With these combined data points, they created two possible scenarios: the "business as usual" model, in which the region's rapidly growing economy continues to produce more and more air pollution; and the "mitigation" model, in which something is done to slow, if not stop, emissions.

Neither outcome looked particularly good, but there was a big difference between them. The business-as-usual model indicated that average temperatures will easily reach TW 95°F by the year 2100. For the mitigation model, that number was closer to TW 88°F.

Heat map of India projecting temperatures from 1975 to 2100.
Historic and projected temperatures from 1975 (L) to 2100 (R).
Im et al. 2017. Science Advances.

These were just the total averages. Some regions were far worse off than others. In either situation, poorer agricultural communities in India will be hit the hardest—a particularly dangerous outcome in areas where most people live without air conditioning.

"This disparity raises important environmental justice questions beyond the scope of this study," the authors write. "The findings … may present a significant dilemma for India because the continuation of this current trajectory of rising emissions will likely impose significant added human health risks to some of its most vulnerable populations."

A Free Cup Share Program Is Coming to Coffee Shops in Boulder, Colorado

iStock.com/fotostorm
iStock.com/fotostorm

Paper coffee cups are wasteful, taking decades to break down in a landfill after they're used for just a small part of someone's morning. But they're also irresistibly convenient to many. A new startup called Vessel Works is aiming to tackle the waste problem at coffee shops by applying the convenience of disposable to-go cups to reusable mugs, Fast Company reports.

The program, which is launching in four Boulder, Colorado cafes, takes the pressure off of customers to provide their own reusable cups. Instead, they can download an app and use it to check out an insulated, stainless steel mug free of charge. Throughout the day, the app updates them on ways their choice has made a difference, including how much waste they've prevented, how much water they've conserved, and how much they've reduced their carbon footprint. When they're done with the drink, users have five days to return their mug to a Vessel kiosk; from there it will be cleaned in one of the startup's facilities and returned to a cafe where the cycle will start all over again.

Vessel isn't the first company to attempt to bring reusable cups into the sharing economy. In 2016, coffee shops in Hamburg, Germany adopted a program where customers could acquire a mug for a small deposit and return it to a participating cafe to get their money back. Vessel Works's program differs in that users are never asked to pay unless they fail to return their cups on time (in that case, they'll be charged a fee).

Vessel is currently working with Boxcar Coffee Roasters and Trident Booksellers and Cafe in Boulder, and is coming soon to Seeds Library Cafe at the Boulder Public Library and the Pekoe Sip House at the University of Colorado. The startup hopes to eventually expand to more cafes and install dropoff kiosks at more convenient locations like transit stops.

[h/t Fast Company]

This Live Stream Lets You Eavesdrop on Endangered Killer Whales' Conversations

iStock.com/Serega
iStock.com/Serega

Southern resident killer whales, which are usually found off the coasts of Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia, are an endangered species. If you're lucky, though, you might be able to hear a pod of the killer whales chattering away from the comfort of your own home. A website spotted by The Kansas City Star lets you live stream the calls of killer whales from your phone or laptop. Dubbed Orcasound, it uses hydrophones (underwater microphones) to pick up oceanic sounds from two areas off the coast of Washington.

On the website, listeners can choose between the two locations. One is the Orcasound Lab in Haro Strait, which is situated off the coast of Washington's San Juan Islands—the "summertime habitat" of this specific ecotype of whale, according to the website. The other location is Bush Point at the entrance to Puget Sound, where the whales pass through about once a month in search of salmon. However, that hydrophone is currently being repaired.

So what do orcas sound like? They're loud, and they do a whole lot of whistling, whining, and clicking. You can hear a snippet of what that sounds like in a four-minute podcast uploaded to the Orcasound site.

There’s no guarantee you’ll hear an orca, though. "Mostly you'll hear ships," the website notes, but there's also a chance you'll hear humpbacks in the fall and male harbor seals in the summer.

The live stream isn't just for educational purposes. It also serves as a citizen science project to help researchers continue their studies of southern resident killer whales, which are in danger of starvation as Chinook salmon, their main food source, die off.

The makers of Orcasound are urging listeners to email ihearsomething@orcasound.net anytime they hear killer whales or "other interesting sounds." They can also log their observations in a shared Google spreadsheet. Eventually, developers of the site hope to roll out a button that listeners can click when they hear a whale, to make the process easier for people to get involved.

[h/t The Kansas City Star]

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