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Amplified or exaggerated changes in perceived temperature extremes under global warming


The perceived temperature has been changing rapidly under global warming, and its related extremes have significant impacts on labor productivity and human health. Although numerous thermal indices have been developed to quantify the perceived temperature, impact assessments have not been conducted comprehensively. The lack of exploring the nonlinearity and linearity inherent in thermal indices will lead to biased conclusions. We conduct a comprehensive investigation of 161 indices to create an ensemble of selected thermal indices that represent the linear and nonlinear relationships of climatic conditions and quantify the changes in the perceived temperature and related extremes. Here we find that the increase in the mean perceived temperature can be strongly exaggerated by using nonlinear indices or linear indices that only consider the combined effect of high temperature and humidity. Wind speed incorporated into the schemes of linear indices can largely offset the increase in the perceived temperature induced by the high relative humidity. These two divergent changes can be further enhanced in future exposure to heat stress. Furthermore, our findings reveal an amplification of heatwave durations induced by the combined effects of multiple variables for all thermal indices. Such an amplification leads to a cascade of relatively short-duration heatwaves evolving into super long-lasting heatwaves which are particularly pronounced over low-latitude areas.

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We acknowledge and thank the climate modeling groups (listed in Supplementary Table S2) in the World Climate Research Programme’s Working Group on Coupled Modelling (which is responsible for CMIP5) for generating their model outputs and making them available. We would also like to express our sincere gratitude to the editor and anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments and suggestions.


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This research was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant no. 51809223) and the Hong Kong Polytechnic University Start-up Grant (Grant no. 1-ZE8S).

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SW and JZ conceived the study and conducted the analysis. Both authors contributed to the writing and the discussion of ideas.

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Correspondence to Jinxin Zhu.

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Wang, S., Zhu, J. Amplified or exaggerated changes in perceived temperature extremes under global warming. Clim Dyn 54, 117–127 (2020).

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  • Perceived temperature extremes
  • RCPs
  • Climate change
  • Environmental health