Scientists raise alarm over Persian Gulf climate

Image: Hajj
Hundreds of thousands of Muslim pilgrims pray outside the Namira Mosque near Mecca on Sept. 23 during this year’s hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia. (AP file photo by Mosa’ab Elshamy)

Climate researchers say that summertime conditions in some parts of the Persian Gulf region could become intolerable by the end of the century – and that the annual hajj pilgrimage, a core observance for Muslims, is ”likely to become hazardous to human health.”

“The main day of the pilgrimage involves worshiping at a site outside Mecca from sunrise to sunset in an outdoor setting. … That’s the kind of ritual that could be quite limited,” said Elfatih Eltahir, a climatologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who is one of the authors of a report published today by Nature Climate Change.

Eltahir and his co-author, Jeremy Pal of Loyola Marymount University, base their projections on an analysis of the potential regional effects from global climate change under two of the scenarios laid out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. One scenario assumes “business as usual” and a steady rise in greenhouse gas emissions. The other, known as the RCP4.5 scenario, assumes the rise in emissions can be stabilized.

The analysis suggests that if current trends continue, summertime heat and humidity would occasionally rise beyond the limit of human endurance in Abu Dhabi and Dubai; in Qatar’s capital, Doha; in the Saudi city of Dhahran and the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas. Temperatures in Mecca wouldn’t hit the threshold by the end of the century, but they’d come close.

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