Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Weather records due to climate change: a game with loaded dice

The past decade has been one of unprecedented weather extremes. Scientists of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) in Germany argue that the high incidence of extremes is not merely accidental. From the many single events a pattern emerges.

At least for extreme rainfall and heat waves the link with human-caused global warming is clear, the scientists show in a new analysis of scientific evidence in the journal Nature Climate Change. Less clear is the link between warming and storms, despite the observed increase in the intensity of hurricanes.

In 2011 alone, the US was hit by 14 extreme weather events which caused damages exceeding one billion dollars each – in several states the months of January to October were the wettest ever recorded. Japan also registered record rainfalls, while the Yangtze river basin in China suffered a record drought.

Similar record-breaking events occurred also in previous years. In 2010, Western Russia experienced the hottest summer in centuries, while in Pakistan and Australia record-breaking amounts of rain fell. 2003 saw Europe´s hottest summer in at least half a millennium. And in 2002, the weather station of Zinnwald-Georgenfeld measured more rain in one day than ever before recorded anywhere in Germany – what followed was the worst flooding of the Elbe river for centuries.

"A question of probabilities"

“The question is whether these weather extremes are coincidental or a result of climate change,” says Dim Coumou, lead author of the article. “Global warming can generally not be proven to cause individual extreme events – but in the sum of events the link to climate change becomes clear.” This is what his analysis of data and published studies shows. “It is not a question of yes or no, but a question of probabilities,” Coumou explains. The recent high incidence of weather records is no longer normal, he says.

“It´s like a game with loaded dice,” says Coumou. “A six can appear every now and then, and you never know when it happens. But now it appears much more often, because we have changed the dice.” The past week illustrates this: between March 13th and 19th alone, historical heat records were exceeded in more than a thousand places in North America.

Three pillars: basic physics, statistical analysis and computer simulations

The scientists base their analysis on three pillars: basic physics, statistical analysis and computer simulations. Elementary physical principles already suggest that a warming of the atmosphere leads to more extremes. For example, warm air can hold more moisture until it rains out. Secondly, clear statistical trends can be found in temperature and precipitation data, the scientists explain. And thirdly, detailed computer simulations also confirm the relation between warming and records in both temperature and precipitation.

With warmer ocean temperatures, tropical storms – called typhoons or hurricanes, depending on the region – should increase in intensity but not in number, according to the current state of knowledge. In the past decade, several record-breaking storms occurred, for example hurricane Wilma in 2004. But the dependencies are complex and not yet fully understood. The observed strong increase in the intensity of tropical storms in the North Atlantic between 1980 and 2005, for example, could be caused not just by surface warming but by a cooling of the upper atmosphere. Furthermore, there are questions about the precision and reliability of historic storm data.

Overall, cold extremes decrease with global warming, the scientists found. But this does not compensate for the increase in heat extremes.

Turning an extreme event into a record-breaking event

“Single weather extremes are often related to regional processes, like a blocking high pressure system or natural phenomena like El Niño,“ says Stefan Rahmstorf, co-author of the article and chair of the Earth System Analysis department at PIK. “These are complex processes that we are investigating further. But now these processes unfold against the background of climatic warming. That can turn an extreme event into a record-breaking event.”

Article: Coumou, D., Rahmstorf, S. (2012): A Decade of Weather Extremes. Nature Climate Change [DOI: 10.1038/NCLIMATE1452]

For further information please contact:
PIK press office
Phone: +49 331 288 25 07

Jonas Viering | PIK Potsdam
Further information:

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht New technologies and computing power to help strengthen population data
22.03.2018 | University of Southampton

nachricht New interactive map shows climate change everywhere in world
22.03.2018 | University of Cincinnati

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Researchers Discover New Anti-Cancer Protein

An international team of researchers has discovered a new anti-cancer protein. The protein, called LHPP, prevents the uncontrolled proliferation of cancer cells in the liver. The researchers led by Prof. Michael N. Hall from the Biozentrum, University of Basel, report in “Nature” that LHPP can also serve as a biomarker for the diagnosis and prognosis of liver cancer.

The incidence of liver cancer, also known as hepatocellular carcinoma, is steadily increasing. In the last twenty years, the number of cases has almost doubled...

Im Focus: Researchers at Fraunhofer monitor re-entry of Chinese space station Tiangong-1

In just a few weeks from now, the Chinese space station Tiangong-1 will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere where it will to a large extent burn up. It is possible that some debris will reach the Earth's surface. Tiangong-1 is orbiting the Earth uncontrolled at a speed of approx. 29,000 km/h.Currently the prognosis relating to the time of impact currently lies within a window of several days. The scientists at Fraunhofer FHR have already been monitoring Tiangong-1 for a number of weeks with their TIRA system, one of the most powerful space observation radars in the world, with a view to supporting the German Space Situational Awareness Center and the ESA with their re-entry forecasts.

Following the loss of radio contact with Tiangong-1 in 2016 and due to the low orbital height, it is now inevitable that the Chinese space station will...

Im Focus: Alliance „OLED Licht Forum“ – Key partner for OLED lighting solutions

Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP, provider of research and development services for OLED lighting solutions, announces the founding of the “OLED Licht Forum” and presents latest OLED design and lighting solutions during light+building, from March 18th – 23rd, 2018 in Frankfurt a.M./Germany, at booth no. F91 in Hall 4.0.

They are united in their passion for OLED (organic light emitting diodes) lighting with all of its unique facets and application possibilities. Thus experts in...

Im Focus: Mars' oceans formed early, possibly aided by massive volcanic eruptions

Oceans formed before Tharsis and evolved together, shaping climate history of Mars

A new scenario seeking to explain how Mars' putative oceans came and went over the last 4 billion years implies that the oceans formed several hundred million...

Im Focus: Tiny implants for cells are functional in vivo

For the first time, an interdisciplinary team from the University of Basel has succeeded in integrating artificial organelles into the cells of live zebrafish embryos. This innovative approach using artificial organelles as cellular implants offers new potential in treating a range of diseases, as the authors report in an article published in Nature Communications.

In the cells of higher organisms, organelles such as the nucleus or mitochondria perform a range of complex functions necessary for life. In the networks of...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

Virtual reality conference comes to Reutlingen

19.03.2018 | Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

International Tinnitus Conference of the Tinnitus Research Initiative in Regensburg

13.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

Modular safety concept increases flexibility in plant conversion

22.03.2018 | Trade Fair News

New interactive map shows climate change everywhere in world

22.03.2018 | Earth Sciences

New technologies and computing power to help strengthen population data

22.03.2018 | Earth Sciences

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>