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Why is Beijing so darn hot right now? We looked for answers

Summertime, and the living is challenging

Beijing hit the turbo button on Tuesday, cranking the thermometer to the highest temperature seen in the city so far this year, and maxing out somewhere between 38 and 41 degrees Celsius, depending on where you get your forecast. (That's as high as 106 Fahrenheit to the Americans out there, and 314 Kelvin to the scientists among you.)

So what happened? Why is it so hot right now? 'Because it is summer,' you may say, and that is a fully acceptable answer, but we want to know more. Why now, why here, and why us? We did a bit of reading this sweaty afternoon to find out just some of the reasons, and here's what we learnt.

Because of our bad latitude


A large factor for how hot it always is this time of year is our city's latitude on the surface of the earth – around 39° N, if you're wondering – a positioning that Britannica describes as being in 'the major zone of conflict between polar and tropical air masses'. A weather war-zone, no less. Among other factors, this location at the northern tip of the region affected by the East Asian monsoon gives us a climate of extremes that is defined as 'humid continental', with our summer subtype 'hot' and 'monsoonal' (the next three months will see around 75% of our yearly rainfall). That summer is here and it sure is hot, you can feel that much.

Because we live in a basin

Much like this one. Image via Wikimedia Commons

Mountains that surround the outskirts of Beijing from its southwest to its northeast form a semi-circular shield between the city and the steppes of northern China and the Gobi desert, meaning we are left in a basin of sorts. This basin is partly responsible for our often stagnant, windless air, forming a receptacle for the city's pollution, and a relative depression that also keeps wind out and pollution and heat in during these summer months.

Side note – the Gobi is also expanding into northern and western China at an alarming rate. The process is known as desertification and, who knows, maybe one day far away it'll just engulf Beijing too? For now, we just have to deal with pesky sandstorms blowing in from the west, usually during the spring.

Because we are far from the coast

Some of the closest sea to Beijing can be found at Shanhaiguan – and it's got a Great Wall too

In the bigger picture, we are not all that far from the coast, but just far enough away to not receive much of the benefit of a regular, cooling sea breeze. But hopefully you have AC breeze nearby, or a big old fan wherever you are today – if not, check out our guide to some of Taobao's best hot weather solutions to help you beat the heat.

Because of each other

We live in a city of an estimated 22 million people, and in central Dongcheng district, population density is around 23,000 humans per square kilometre – almost the same number as at that hellish crossing in Sanlitun. Sure, all those people breathing on you isn't pleasant, nor cooling in any way, but it's more about what people bring with them to the urban habitat – buildings, roads, machinery, vehicles, more roads and other dark-coloured, concretey things that absorb heat.

Cities around the world suffer from this, a relative temperature increase compared to their surrounding areas, in an effect known as the 'urban heat island' – read all about it here in Smithsonian. It's largely caused by the replacement of plants and green surfaces by concrete. Beijing's actually pretty green – around 42 percent is covered by forest, apparently – but if you're in a built-up area, it's going to feel noticeably hotter.

Because it's a little polluted

Not this bad, luckily.

We've seen an AQI rating around the 100 mark today, and as is a basic fact that we learn about climate change, air pollution traps solar energy in the atmosphere. Sunlight combining with certain air-based compounds also has the effect of producing hazardous ozone, and we're supposedly experiencing a spike in those levels right now, as the SCMP reports. Pollution can make temperature worse, and temperature can make pollution worse – the forces of evil combine.

Because you are a bad person

We hate to break it to you, but maybe we are all just bad people, and this is why we have all been fast-tracked to the seventh circle of hell this week. You may either repent for your sins, or indulge even further in the hedonistic offerings of your new, scorching habitat – head for a drink at one of Beijing's best outdoor bars, cool off with an iced coffee, splash yourself silly in one of its wonderful outdoor pools, or treat yourself to an indulgent AC-backed feast with one of the city's best burgers or pizzas.

If you are an actual weather scientist and would like to weather-mansplain these or any additional concepts to us in more depth, please do get in touch – it's going to be a long summer.

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