Extreme weather renews focus on climate change as scientists update forecasts

As scientists gather online to finalize a long-awaited update on global climate research, recent extreme weather events across the globe highlight the need for more research on how it will play out, especially locally.

The list of extremes in just the last few weeks has been startling: Unprecedented rains followed by deadly flooding in central China and Europe. Temperatures of 120 Fahrenheit (49 Celsius) in Canada, and tropical heat in Finland and Ireland. The Siberian tundra ablaze. Monstrous U.S. wildfires, along with record drought across the U.S. West and parts of Brazil. read more

“Global warming was well projected, but now you see it with your own eyes,” said Corinne Le Quere, a climate scientist at the University of East Anglia.

Scientists had long predicted such extremes were likely. But many are surprised by so many happening so fast – with the global atmosphere 1.2 degrees Celsius warmer than the preindustrial average. The Paris Agreement on climate change calls for keeping warming to within 1.5 degrees.

“It’s not so much that climate change itself is proceeding faster than expected — the warming is right in line with model predictions from decades ago,” said climate scientist Michael Mann of Pennsylvania State University. “Rather, it’s the fact that some of the impacts are greater than scientists predicted.”

That suggests that climate modeling may have been underestimating “the potential for the dramatic rise in persistent weather extremes,” Mann said.

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