Climate change seen through rapid rise of temperatures throughout S. Korea

People walk below a large screen in Tokyo's Akiharaba district on Saturday that shows temperatures were forecast to rise above 30 C across the nation that day. | KYODO. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

SEOUL, Nov 15, 2020, Hankyoreh. On Aug. 1, 2018, a 76-year record high temperature was recorded in Hongcheon, Gangwon Province, when the mercury reached 41 degrees Celsius. When will the new record be set, Hankyoreh reported.

Speaking at a conference of the Korean Society of Climate Change Research (KSCC) in Jeju on Nov. 6, Choi Young-eun, professor of geography at Konkuk University, said, “In projecting maximum high temperatures while taking climate change into account, it has been predicted that they will reach 43 degrees in 20 to 40 years even with proactive reductions to greenhouse gas emissions, and up to 49 degrees if we continue emitting greenhouse gases at present levels without reduction policies.”

Choi and her research team calculated changes in South Korea’s climate extremes and future projections based on data for daily high and low temperatures and daily precipitation for the past 47 years (1973-2019) and a 60-year period in the future (2041-2100) under representative concentration pathway (RCP) scenarios of RCP2.6 (where humans immediately reduce their greenhouse gas emissions) and RCP8.5 (where no such efforts are made).

To date, the record high temperature for South Korea is 41 degrees, which was registered in Hongcheon on Aug. 1, 2018. The record low of -32.6 was registered in Yangpyeong, Gyeonggi Province, on Jan. 5, 1981, while the highest recorded daily precipitation was 870.5 millimeters (mm) of rain that fell over the course of a day in Gangneung, Gangwon Province, on Aug. 31, 2002.

According to the team’s projections, record high temperatures of 43.4 degrees were predicted for Daegu and Ulsan between 2041 and 2070 even under an RCP2.6 scenario. The increase would be even larger under an RCP8.5 scenario, where a high temperature of 49 degrees was predicted in Daegu between 2071 and 2100.

In terms of daily precipitation, the current maximum was not expected to be exceeded under an RCP2.6 scenario, but potential record rainfall of up to 1,747.7mm in Busan was predicted toward the end up the center (2071-2100) under an RCP8.5 scenario.

“Climate extremes have a large direct impact on ecosystems and social and economic systems such as public health, agriculture, water resources, and energy supplies,” Choi explained. “Given the large spatial differences, we need to have a detailed region-by-region assessment in order to pursue a suitable climate change response.”

Based on its probability calculations for representable years, the research team concluded that while an RCP2.6 scenario would limit the possibility of new record temperatures of over 40 degrees to the Yeongnam region and parts of the Seoul Capital Area toward the later part of the century, an RCP8.5 scenario would include all of South Korea apart from mountainous regions in Gangwon Province and the area near Mt. Jiri within the next five years. With the RCP8.5 scenario, 60 to 70 days of extreme heat per year were predicted for the later part of the 21st century.

“With temperatures in excess of 40 degrees becoming a regular occurrence in the future, our very standards for ‘extreme heat’ will change,” Choi predicted.

“But with South Korea’s summers being as hot as in tropical regions, it’s the subtropicalization of the winter that will be a bigger problem for ecosystems than the summers,” she added. The argument is that with the Korean Peninsula’s ecosystems adapted to cold and dry winters, the disruption to them will be exacerbated by increasingly warm temperatures and humidity. Indeed, the large numbers of pests that survived last winter — the warmest yet recorded — resulted in major costs devoted to pest control.

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