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What do extreme heat waves tell us about the dangers of climate change

Scientists have simply had a very short amount of time with a climate system warmed up by human actions to determine the answers to these kinds of questions.

“There is a lot of uncertainty when it comes to these unprecedented and record-breaking events,” Flavio Lehner, associate professor of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Cornell University, said in an email. “You can’t, with the highest level of confidence, say that models get this or they don’t get it,” when it comes to certain extreme events.

What other forces can contribute to extreme heat waves?

Lehner says a diverse group of researchers is exploring the degree to which certain forces can exacerbate heat waves, and whether they are accurately represented in current models.

These include potential feedback effects, such as drying out of soil and vegetation in some areas. Besides certain thresholds, this can accelerate warming during heat waves, because the energy that would have gone into the evaporating water heats up the air.

Another open scientific question is whether climate change itself is increasing the persistence of some atmospheric patterns that are clearly fueling heat waves. This involves the buildup of high-pressure ridges that push warm air downward, creating so-called heat domes that hover over large areas and bake them.

Both forces may have played a major role in fueling the Pacific Northwest heat wave last year, according to an upcoming research paper. In Europe, researchers note that splitting in the jet stream and rising ocean water temperatures could play a role in the rise in extreme heat events across the continent.

Why didn’t scientists warn us properly?

Ugh. Some publications have already printed words to this effect, in response to the increasingly severe weather events.

But to be clear, scientists have been sounding the alarm for decades, in every possible way, that climate change will make the planet warmer, weirder, harder to predict, and in many ways more dangerous to humans, animals and ecosystems. And they were frank about the limits of their understanding. The main accusation they have faced until recently (and continue to face, in many quarters) is that they are advocates of doomsday fear who exaggerate the threat to fund research or for political reasons.

Real-world events that highlight the shortcomings of climate models, to the degree they have, fall short of the “ahhhhhh, gotcha, scientists have been wrong all along”. Lehner says they offer an instrument stress test, which researchers are eagerly using to improve their understanding of these systems and the models they’ve created to represent them.

Chris Field, director of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, said frankly in a letter in response to The New York Times Emphasizing that “a little thought [climate change] He’ll arrive quickly: “The problem wasn’t that the scientists got it wrong. It has been, despite clear warnings consistent with the available evidence, that dedicated scholars to inform the public have struggled to get their voices heard in an atmosphere full of false accusations of danger and political motives.”

What do extreme heat waves tell us about the dangers of climate change

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