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Science: Extreme rains supercharged by warming

By Joe Romm

"Science: Extreme rains supercharged by warming"

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deluge.jpgScience has just published, “Atmospheric Warming and the Amplification of Precipitation Extremes” (subs. req’d). It concludes:

Here, we use satellite observations and model simulations to examine the response of tropical precipitation events to naturally driven changes in surface temperature and atmospheric moisture content. These observations reveal a distinct link between rainfall extremes and temperature, with heavy rain events increasing during warm periods and decreasing during cold periods. Furthermore, the observed amplification of rainfall extremes is found to be larger than predicted by models, implying that projections of future changes in rainfall extremes due to anthropogenic global warming may be underestimated.

In short, global warming is going to make extreme weather even more extreme than scientists have thought. And this conclusion is based largely on observational evidence:

The study team analyzed satellite images of rainfall over tropical oceans over nearly two decades, from 1988 to 2004….

This is something that climate models had predicted,” [coauthor Richard] Allan said. “But getting the data from observations is very important”….

For every 1.8 degree Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) rise in global temperature, heavy rain showers became more common, with most intense category jumping 60 percent.

Remember that on our current emissions path, we are headed towards 5°C warming in this century alone (see “Is 450 ppm politically possible? Part 0: The alternative is humanity’s self-destruction“), which suggests we are headed for a staggering increase in intense rainfall. This has huge implications for both agriculture and human health:

With intense rains, “you can get flash flooding, and heavy rainfall can destroy crops,” [Allan] said. “Those are the most immediate impacts.”

Coupled with rising global temperatures, more frequent and intense rainfall has “major implications for infectious diseases,” said Paul Epstein, a tropical disease expert at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts.

“After floods one often sees clusters of vector-borne diseases–malaria, dengue fever, Japanese B encephalitis,” Epstein said.

Floods often cause a jump in cholera and other water-borne diseases, as well as plague and other rodent-borne diseases, he added.

The fact that the climate appears to be changing faster than the models suggested, and that the models underestimate likely climate impacts, is no surprise to Climate Progress readers (see “Are Scientists Overestimating — or Underestimating — Climate Change, Part II“). The media can try to downplay the connection between climate and extreme weather, but the science is quite clear that this impact has already begun and that it has serious consequences for human health and well-being.

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11 Responses to Science: Extreme rains supercharged by warming

  1. Robert says:

    Glad we’ve dropped the Obama “f*****g for virginity” for a bit and got back to the actual problem.

  2. john says:

    Robert:

    Who gets elected has a lot to do with how and whether we seek to tackle this problem. McCain: not much. Obama: a hell of a lot more.

    So, it’s pretty f****** relevant.

  3. Brewster says:

    John:

    I agree that Obama will probably try harder than McCain, but I have serious doubts that EITHER can get much through Congress – too many people with their own agenda. (Mostly thrying to make the other party look bad.)

  4. Robert says:

    I don’t want to appear negative, but Obama’s energy plan includes things which just blatently fly in the face of cutting emissions.

    http://www.barackobama.com/pdf/factsheet_energy_speech_080308.pdf

    Page 5 “Promote the supply of donestic energy” is the key part. If climate change was a priority he would be fighting tooth and nail to do NONE of the items in this section.

    Conservation efforts (e.g. improving building standards, MPG of vehicles etc) are commendable but are unlikely to reduce emissions. The only way to reduce emissions is to limit the amount of oil, coal and gas available, and to ultimately leave as much as possible in the ground. Obama is doing the opposite.

    [JR: Hard to lose sleep over that. We certainly could use more domestic natural gas, and as I've written many times there isn't much domestic oil -- and conservatives are going to hold their breath until we exploit that stuff anyway so it is inevitable.]

  5. paulm says:

    There is probably a limit to how extreme the precipitation can get at some point due to other constraints.

  6. David B. Benson says:

    paulm — In southern Iraq there is a lens of alluvium observable from space. It is over 100 km wide, many tens of kilometers from south (thin end) to north (thick end). The thick end is over 10 meters from top to bottom. It appears the entire lens is the result of a single storm.

    Along the north shore of the Amazon River, just east of the Rio Negro, there are boulders brought down by floods which are up to 3 meters in diameter; the result of flash floods during a time about 40,000 years ago when the Amazon basin was savanna.

  7. red says:

    Most of these studies rely heavily on satellite data. It’s useful to look at the space policies of McCain and Obama with that in mind.

    Obama has put a strong emphasis on a strong NASA environment monitoring satellite program. He also supports NASA’s controversial Ares/Orion vehicles to replace the Space Shuttle. He originally wanted to postpone the return to the Moon program in favor of a Federal education program, but now is in favor of the exploration program, or some alternate “plan to explore the solar system” “that involves both human and robotic missions”. My personal opinion was that his earlier policies didn’t even make sense (they were self-contradictory and the budget math didn’t work at all), but his recent policies are self-consistent.

    McCain has consistently supported the current return to the Moon program. Other than that he hasn’t said much about his space policy, but in general wants to focus on fiscal discipline. Unfortunately the return to the Moon program is one of NASA’s likely areas for budget overruns, so he may have to weigh which is more important.

    A lot of the space interest community is in favor of the return to the Moon, but not NASA’s plan. The reasons vary – many don’t want a Federal space transportation system to replace the Shuttle; they want NASA to encourage a private system that can be used for other purposes (launching environment satellites, etc).

    Many are worried about particular technical, schedule, or budget issues with the current plan. One controversy is that Bush’s plan included a funding ramp-up to pay for the expensive government rockets, but that funding never appeared (cause: both Bush and the new Democratic Congress).

    NASA environment satellite funding has fallen under Bush and the RtM program. NOAA’s NPOESS weather/environment satellites have had tremendous cost overruns during this time. NASA aeronautical research funding has decreased considerably in recent years. Some supporters want NASA to do research on fuel-efficient planes, etc.

    Advocates of commercial space want NASA/NOAA to use reusable private suborbital rockets/spaceplanes now being built for various R&D purposes, many related to climate/environment concerns (environment satellite instrument calibration, testing satellite instruments in suborbital space before orbital launch, Earth remote sensing from suborbital rockets, mid-atmospheric sampling, etc). They also want these agencies to use commercial data purchases or similar mechanisms more heavily rather than expensively building every last environment satellite in-house or through cost-plus contractors. (SeaWiFS is an example where a government instrument was put on a commercial satellite). Neither candidate has said much about commercial space or government use of commercial space.

    I’m not a Democrat but I recognize many on this forum are. You may be interested in http://www.spacedemocrats.org. They’re pushing for space policies that contribute to solving energy/climate problems, encouraging private space, and cheap access to space.

  8. Reeta says:

    Tracking El Niño with satellites reveals that a warming world means not only heavier downpours but drier deserts By David Biello RAIN BELT, When it rains, it will pour as the climate changes, according to satellite observations. NASA As the globe continues to warm, the rainiest parts of the world are very likely to get wetter, according to a new study in Science.
    ————–
    Reeta

    Link Building

  9. shop says:

    red his user very good post :
    Obama has put a strong emphasis on a strong NASA environment monitoring satellite program. He also supports NASA’s controversial Ares/Orion vehicles to replace the Space Shuttle. He originally wanted to postpone the return to the Moon program in favor of a Federal education program, but now is in favor of the exploration program, or some alternate “plan to explore the solar system” “that involves both human and robotic missions”. My personal opinion was that his earlier policies didn’t even make sense (they were self-contradictory and the budget math didn’t work at all), but his recent policies are self-consistent.

  10. utanma says:

    ed his user very good post :
    Obama has put a strong emphasis on a strong NASA environment monitoring satellite program. He also supports NASA’s controversial Ares/Orion vehicles to replace the Space Shuttle. He originally wanted to postpone the return to the Moon program in favor of a Federal education program, but now is in favor of the exploration program, or some alternate “plan to explore the solar system” “that involves both human and robotic missions”. My personal opinion was that his earlier policies didn’t even make sense (they were self-contradictory and the budget math didn’t work at all), but his recent policies are self-consistent.

  11. utanma says:

    Obama has put a strong emphasis on a strong NASA environment monitoring satellite program. He also supports NASA’s controversial Ares/Orion vehicles to replace the Space Shuttle. He originally wanted to postpone the return to the Moon program in favor of a Federal education program, but now is in favor of the exploration program, or some alternate “plan to explore the solar system” “that involves both human and robotic missions”. My personal opinion was that his earlier policies didn’t even make sense (they were self-contradictory a