"Our results indicate that future droughts driven by climate change could pose a potentially substantial public health burden in the U.S. Southwest, a climate penalty that is not yet widely recognized.” —EOH Postdoctoral Researcher Pattanun “Ploy” Achakulwisut
New Study Predicts Increasing Health Risks Due to Changing Climatic Conditions in the U.S. Southwest
Pattanun “Ploy” Achakulwisut, PhD, now a postdoctoral researcher at the Milken Institute SPH, led the study while she was at Harvard University in collaboration with Anenberg and Loretta Mickley, PhD, from Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. The research team analyzed observational data on airborne fine dust levels and regional drought conditions collected over the past 16 years. They found that years with higher-than-normal fine dust levels in the U.S. Southwest correspond to anomalously dry soil moisture conditions across southwestern North America, including areas spanning the Chihuahuan, Mojave, and Sonoran Deserts. They used the observed dust-drought relationships, combined with information from 22 climate models from the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5), to estimate future changes in fine dust levels for the best- and worst-case climate change scenarios included in the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Their work also incorporates information about the well-documented adverse health impacts of PM2.5 exposure to project the associated burden of illness and premature mortality.