More extremes expected in a warming world
FRISCO — After crunching the latest climate numbers in a supercomputer, researchers with Northeastern University report that temperatures may become more volatile in coming decades, on both the hot and cold end of the spectrum.
Increasing temperature variability means that, while each year’s average hottest and coldest temperatures will likely rise, those averages will also tend to fall within a wider range of potential high and low temperate extremes than are currently being observed. This means that even as overall temperatures rise, there may still be extreme cold snaps.
“Just because you have a year that’s colder than the usual over the last decade isn’t a rejection of the global warming hypothesis,” said researcher Evan Kodra.
The findings, published in the journal Scientific Reports, have important scientific as well as societal implications, said Auroop Ganguly. For one thing, knowing that models project a wider range of extreme temperature behavior will allow sectors like agriculture, public health, and insurance planning to better prepare for the future.
For example, Kodra said, “an agriculture insurance company wants to know next year what is the coldest snap we could see and hedge against that. So, if the range gets wider they have a broader array of policies to consider.
The research also opens new areas of interest for future work, both in climate and data science. It suggests that the natural processes that drive weather anomalies today could continue to do so in a warming future. For instance, the team speculates that ice melt in hotter years may cause colder subsequent winters, but these hypotheses can only be confirmed in physics-based studies.
The study used simulations from the most recent climate models developed by groups around the world for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and “reanalysis data sets,” which are generated by blending the best available weather observations with numerical weather models.
The team combined a suite of methods in a relatively new way to characterize extremes and explain how their variability is influenced by things like the seasons, geographical region, and the land-sea interface. The analysis of multiple climate model runs and reanalysis data sets was necessary to account for uncertainties in the physics and model imperfections.