DO you feel extra-hot the past few weeks? And are you aware that Singapore is heating up twice as fast as the rest of the world.
More seriously, extreme heat, combined with the island’s high humidity, could be life-threatening, say the authorities.
Sunny as Singapore can be, nicely set in the sea, but this can be a liability especially surrounded by water may well be lethal in the age of global warming.
The Meteorological Service Singapore (MSS) cautiously raises the red flag to say that Singapore is heating up twice as fast as the rest of the world – at 0.25 degrees Celsius per decade. It is almost 1 deg C hotter today than in the 1950s.
What is even grimmer news – Singapore’s maximum daily temperatures could reach 35 to 37 deg C by year 2100, if carbon emissions continue to rise at the same rate, warns Dr Muhammad Eeqmal Hassim, senior research scientist with the MSS Centre for Climate Research Singapore.
Other countries already experience hotter temperatures than this – but the reason this spells trouble for Singapore, is that humidity is high here all year round. This could lead to potentially deadly situations.
“When temperature and humidity get high enough, our bodies struggle to cope,” he says. “We get higher heat stress levels. It can actually be quite lethal for us.”
Another weather expert, Professor Matthias Roth of the Department of Geography at the National University of Singapore (NUS), attributes the rising temperatures to global warming and the Urban Heat Island (UHI) effect. He adds that this is caused by the heat generated from human activities and trapped by urban surfaces such as buildings and roads.
One giant contributor to the UHI effect: The reliance on air-conditioners. Housing blocks and office buildings effectively end up ejecting hot plumes that heat up the surroundings.
Describing the effect of a stack of air-conditioner units, Professor Gerhard Schmitt – head of a research team called “Cooling Singapore” at the Singapore-ETH Centre – says: “The bottom one is ejecting heat to the outside, but this heat is then sucked in by the next one, and the next one and the next. The higher you go, the higher the temperature that comes out.”
That means the household on top could end up paying higher electricity bills for running the air-con, he notes.
Now you may ask: What are the risks if Singapore keeps getting hotter?
The problem is the high humidity, which means perspiration doesn’t evaporate as quickly. The body has to work harder to stay cool, which can lead to heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
As a gauge, the current relative humidity in Singapore varies from more than 90 per cent in the morning to around 60 per cent in the mid-afternoon when there is no rain, according to the MSS website. Relative humidity frequently reaches 100 per cent during prolonged periods of rain.
Heat stroke occurs when core temperature exceeds 40 deg C and the body is unable to sufficiently dissipate the heat. It could lead to organ damage and death.
Take for example, marathoner Dr Derek Li, who came close to a heat stroke during a leisurely cycling trip in Desaru. He describes how his body started to seize up and he felt dizzy.
“I realised that I wasn’t sweating as much as usual, my mouth was dry and my eyes were dry. Those are usually the classical signs heading towards a heatstroke,” says the experienced athlete and medical doctor. “It caught me by surprise.” He took a week to recover.
For a country as hot and humid as Singapore, the National University Hospital notes it has fewer than 10 cases of heat stroke a year.
At the end of the day, though, might Singaporeans simply just learn to adjust to higher temperatures? Dr Li thinks so.
“When we read reports about high death tolls and heat waves in other countries, these usually arise because they were unexpected,” he explains. “Generally, mean temperatures tend to rise gradually and that gives us the opportunity to adapt.
“Even though it can’t kill you, it still can affect your life.”