‘Absolutely No Doubt’ That Climate Intensified Current Drought

‘Absolutely No Doubt’ That Climate Intensified Current Drought

Severe drought ravaged large swathes of the Northern Hemisphere this year, from China to Europe to western United States. Scientists believe climate change is at least partially to blame.

Climate change increased the odds of drought across the hemisphere by as much as 20 times, according to a new study from the research consortium World Weather Attribution, which specializes in the links between climate change and extreme weather events.

Zeroing in particular on Europe, which experienced one of the hottest summers in decades. Climate change may have made drought three to four times more likely.

The study was published Wednesday, just weeks after the end of summer.

It’s the latest in a series of “rapid attribution studies” from World Weather Attribution, which this summer has examined the role of climate change on heavy rainfall in Brazil, record-breaking heat in the U.K. and devastating floods in Pakistan.

In this case, researchers did two analyses. One focused on the Northern Hemisphere and the tropical regions, while the other looked at west-central Europe. Europe saw its hottest summer on record this year, and it experienced its driest conditions since 1950.

Drought may be defined in many ways, including low rainfall and low river flows. The researchers examined the soil’s dryness, which is a crucial factor in plant growth. Low soil moisture can sometimes be referred to as ecological or agricultural drought.

They found that in both study regions–in Europe and in the Northern Hemisphere at large–this summer’s drought was about a one-in-20-year event. This is an event that has a chance of occurring in 5 percent of all years.

Looking at historical data, researchers discovered that the chances of severe droughts has increased over the past century. The researchers then used climate modeling to determine if global warming was a contributing factor.

The models indicate that climate change has played a role. Warming has made this summer’s level of drought around three to four times more likely to occur in Europe, and as much as 20 times more likely across the Northern Hemisphere.

These are the best estimates based on the model results. However, these numbers are subject to a lot uncertainty. This is partly because drought is a more complex weather phenomenon than other events like heat waves and extreme rainfall. It is also difficult to observe, quantify, and reproduce in models.

Although the exact numbers are up for debate, researchers strongly believe that climate change played a significant role.

” “There is no doubt that climate changes played a major role here,” stated Friederike Otto of Imperial College London, who is also co-lead for World Weather Attribution. “The exact quantification of that role is more uncertain for soil moisture than, for example, when we look at heavy precipitation.”

The study also uses climate models to look into the future. The world has warmed by 1.2 degrees Celsius already. If the planet reaches 2 C, severe droughts will increase even more. In some parts of the Northern Hemisphere, the likelihood could increase by as much as 15 times.

“That means the current one-in-20 year event will occur almost every year,” said Dominik Schumacher, a scientist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich and one of the study’s authors.

Reprinted from E&E News with permission from

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