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Glob Health Action. 2009 Nov 11;2. doi: 10.3402/gha.v2i0.2005.

The thermal environment of the human being on the global scale.

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Meteorological Institute, University of Freiburg, Freiburg, Germany.



The close relationship between human health, performance, well-being and the thermal environment is obvious. Nevertheless, most studies of climate and climate change impacts show amazing shortcomings in the assessment of the environment. Populations living in different climates have different susceptibilities, due to socio-economic reasons, and different customary behavioural adaptations. The global distribution of risks of hazardous thermal exposure has not been analysed before.


To produce maps of the baseline and future bioclimate that allows a direct comparison of the differences in the vulnerability of populations to thermal stress across the world.


The required climatological data fields are obtained from climate simulations with the global General Circulation Model ECHAM4 in T106-resolution. For the thermo-physiologically relevant assessment of these climate data a complete heat budget model of the human being, the 'Perceived Temperature' procedure has been applied which already comprises adaptation by clothing to a certain degree. Short-term physiological acclimatisation is considered via Health Related Assessment of the Thermal Environment.


The global maps 1971-1980 (control run, assumed as baseline climate) show a pattern of thermal stress intensities as frequencies of heat. The heat load for people living in warm-humid climates is the highest. Climate change will lead to clear differences in health-related thermal stress between baseline climate and the future bioclimate 2041-2050 based on the 'business-as-usual' greenhouse gas scenario IS92a. The majority of the world's population will be faced with more frequent and more intense heat strain in spite of an assumed level of acclimatisation. Further adaptation measures are crucial in order to reduce the vulnerability of the populations.


This bioclimatology analysis provides a tool for various questions in climate and climate change impact research. Considerations of regional or local scale require climate simulations with higher resolution. As adaptation is the key term in understanding the role of climate/climate change for human health, performance and well-being, further research in this field is crucial.


Perceived Temperature; acclimatisation; bioclimate mapping; climate impact research; cold stress; heat load; thermal assessment

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