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Human-made waste heat warms climate

Energy dissipated as heat in cities can cause regional temperature changes, simulations suggest

The waste heat generated by car engines, power plants, home furnaces and other fossil fuel-burning machinery plays an unappreciated role in influencing regional climates, new computer simulations suggest. By altering atmospheric circulation, human-made heat may raise temperatures by as much as 1 degree Celsius during winter in the northernmost parts of the world.

The finding may help explain why current climate simulations, which account for the heat-trapping effects of greenhouse gases but not the heat directly produced by energy consumption, have failed to replicate some winter warming observed in the northern latitudes, researchers report online January 27 in Nature Climate Change.

“The magnitude of their result is quite surprising,” says Mark McCarthy, a climate scientist at the Met Office Hadley Centre in Exeter, England.

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