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Urban vulnerability to climate change

Project examines urban dwellers’ vulnerability to heat in face of climate changes

TEMPE, Ariz. – Sophisticated climate and environmental data will be combined with social science knowledge by a team of Arizona State University researchers investigating human vulnerability to deadly heat exposure.

With the mounting effects of climate change and half the world’s population now living in urban areas – one-third of the people in slums – the potential for the increasing frequency and severity of heat waves is cause for grave concern, says Sharon Harlan, an associate professor of sociology in ASU’s School of Human Evolution and Social Change in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

“People in cities are in double jeopardy due to urban heat islands and global climate change – factors that are increasing and intensifying as they interact,” she says.

Exposure to extreme heat events could lead to even larger disasters than some seen in the recent past, such as the heat wave that took as many as 50,000 lives in Europe in 2003.

Harlan will lead researchers in seeking answers to guide policymakers and planners in bolstering protective measures to prevent heat-related illness and deaths. The collaborative project, partnering ASU and the University of California, Riverside, is supported by a recently awarded $1.4 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

The teams will examine how global environmental change combines with local conditions to affect human vulnerability to climate change. Studies show the urban poor are most vulnerable to extreme heat, but little is known about the interplay between changing urban climates and the human and natural systems within cities.

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