Heat Stress and Air Quality


Extreme heat events can be characterized by 'several days of temperatures in excess of 90° F; warm, stagnant air masses; and consecutive nights with higher–than-usual minimum temperatures' (CDC). As a consequence of climate change, extreme heat events are expected to increase in both severity and frequency. Heat waves have been shown to cause a significant number of deaths, and the young and elderly are most susceptible to the effects of extreme heat. In addition to the public health effects of extreme heat, there are serious agricultural and livestock concerns. This focus area page is dedicated to bringing you top issues and news relevant to this topic. We also encourage you, as the GAIA community, to discuss your related heat stress and air quality concerns here, in an attempt to highlight actionable items and knowledge gaps.

(Seth Perlman/AP Photo (left), Rodrigo Coca, Foto Arena/AE/AP (right))




Based on the GAIA workshop held in April, Dr. Cindy Parker helped to identify prioritized topics relevant to heat stress and air quality:


  1. There needs to be a systems approach to show how heat stress fits into the bigger picture of climate change
    • If we try to provide useful information for policy and decision makers, we need a clear picture of the implications of heat stress
  2. We need to identify the best-practices for addressing heat-stress
    • Urban policies (what types of policies should be in place?)
    • Rural policies (see above)
  3. We need to clarify links between heat stress and air quality
    • How are they related or not related? How would you define their relationship?

In an attempt to examine the needs, adaptation, and mitigation strategies for heat stress, what do you feel are the highest priorities for this topic? Of the topics listed, how would you address one or more of them?