Articles | Volume 7, issue 2
Review article
05 Aug 2015
Review article |  | 05 Aug 2015

Perceived temperature in the course of climate change: an analysis of global heat index from 1979 to 2013

D. Lee and T. Brenner

Abstract. The increase in global mean temperatures resulting from climate change has wide reaching consequences for the earth's ecosystems and other natural systems. Many studies have been devoted to evaluating the distribution and effects of these changes. We go a step further and propose the use of the heat index, a measure of the temperature as perceived by humans, to evaluate global changes. The heat index, which is computed from temperature and relative humidity, is more important than temperature for the health of humans and animals. Even in cases where the heat index does not reach dangerous levels from a health perspective, it has been shown to be an important factor in worker productivity and thus in economic productivity.

We compute the heat index from dew point temperature and absolute temperature 2 m above ground from the ERA-Interim reanalysis data set for the years 1979–2013. The described data set provides global heat index aggregated to daily minima, means and maxima per day (doi:10.1594/PANGAEA.841057). This paper examines these data, as well as showing aggregations to monthly and yearly values. Furthermore, the data are spatially aggregated to the level of countries after being weighted by population density in order to facilitate the analysis of its impact on human health and productivity. The resulting data deliver insights into the spatiotemporal development of near-ground heat index during the course of the past three decades. It is shown that the impact of changing heat index is unevenly distributed through space and time, affecting some areas differently than others. The data can serve as a basis for evaluating and understanding the evolution of heat index in the course of climate change, as well as its impact on human health and productivity.

Short summary
We evaluate global changes to heat index, a measure of perceived temperature. The product is daily means, minima and maxima gridded to 0.75°x0.75° for the entire globe from 1979 to 2013. The results show the uneven distribution in changes in heat index throughout space and time. They can serve as a basis for future studies on the evolution of heat index in climate change and its effects on human society.