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Disentangling interactions between atmospheric pollution and weather
  1. Antonella Zanobetti1,
  2. Annette Peters2
  1. 1Department of Environmental Health, Exposure, Epidemiology and Risk Program, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  2. 2Institute of Epidemiology II, Helmholtz Zentrum München—German Research Center for Environmental Health, Neuherberg, Germany
  1. Correspondence to Dr Antonella Zanobetti, Department of Environmental Health, Exposure, Epidemiology and Risk Program, Harvard School of Public Health, 401 Park Drive, Landmark Center, Suite 404 M, P.O. Box 15698, Boston, MA 02215, USA; azanobet{at}hsph.harvard.edu

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The impact of climate change

The new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report reaffirms the mounting threat of climate change.1 The IPCC predicts that the global average surface temperature will increase by 1.4–5.8°C by the end of this century, depending on the pollution emission scenarios and the sensitivity of the climate to greenhouse gas perturbations.1 Climate change perturbs not just surface temperatures, but also a suite of other meteorological variables important to human health, including absolute humidity, surface pressure, precipitation, and the duration and intensity of summertime weather. Forecasting studies suggest that in the northeast USA, the passage of summertime cold fronts will diminish in frequency in a warmer climate, leading to more persistent heat waves. Observations show that such a trend in cold front frequency in the northeast may have already begun. In a warming climate, absolute humidity will most likely increase due to the increased surface evaporation.2 Air pollution emissions increase climate change, on the other hand in the Northeast heat waves are usually accompanied by, and can lead to increased secondary pollutants like ozone.3 However, the impacts of climate change mitigation activities related to energy production, such as the increased use of wind, wave, solar and nuclear sources of power generation, as well as the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions are likely to reduce particulate and other air pollution emissions.

Epidemiological evidence from studies on weather and air pollution

Increased mortality has been linked not only to heat wave episodes4 but also to exposure to colder weather conditions.4–7 In general, morbidity8 ,9 and mortality10 ,11 associated with heat depend on age, race, sex, class, home characteristics, access to air conditioning, general health and living in an urban area versus a rural area.12 Greater susceptibility to extreme heat has been reported for: the elderly, children, impoverished populations/those with lower socioeconomic …

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