More heavy rain, predicted

Feature story - 26 July, 2007
Computer models of how our world will react to climate change have long predicted extreme and shifting weather patterns. More heavy rains in some areas, crippling drought in others. A new study, published this week in the journal Nature, compared recorded precipitation to predicted precipitation - and confirmed we're changing our weather.

Flood marker in flooded field.

Scientists studying climate change use highly sophisticated computer models to predict likely effects.  For accuracy, these models are checked against what we see happening in the real world.  

In this study, researchers compared what 14 different climate models predicted would happen with actual documented changes in snowfall and rainfall.  What they found was a remarkably close match.  The conclusion - human caused global warming is changing precipitation patterns.

As Peter Stott, one of the report's authors and a climate scientist at the University of Reading, told the Times, "The paper is saying there is a significant human influence on global rainfall patterns and this includes an increase of precipitation north of 50 degrees northern latitude, an area that includes the UK".

Rain and drought

In effect, human induced climate change is creating a stronger water cycle - pushing water vapour from the hottest parts of our planet towards the poles.  So, wet areas are getting wetter and dry areas are getting dryer.  The changes correspond to what's predicted, but may be even worse than previously thought.

From the study:

"The observed changes, which are larger than estimated from model simulations, may have already had significant effects on ecosystems, agriculture and human health in regions that are sensitive to changes in precipitation, such as the Sahel [region in northern Africa]."

-- "Detection of human influence on twentieth-century precipitation trends", Zhang et al, 2007, Nature.

So while millions of people in places like the UK and parts of China are suffering from flooding, heat wave fuelled forests fires plague places like Greece and the western United States.

Cool the planet

While, it's still not possible to connect a specific weather event to climate change, the study published this week in the journal Nature is further confirmation that the more fossil fuels we burn, the worse it is going to get.

And although the climate emergency has already begun, solutions are also at hand.  What we need is an energy revolution to get our global warming emissions under control while still leaving room for economic growth.

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