A body of new research puts this winter’s extreme weather in frightening context – Mother Jones

A body of new research puts this winter’s extreme weather in frightening context – Mother Jones

A GOES-West GeoColor satellite image shows a storm system approaching the West Coast of the United States on Tuesday, January 3, 2023.NOAA/AP

The Earth has already broken all kinds of records this year, and they’re not good numbers. As I write, California’s historic rains are falling along the coast and residents are facing more than 300 mudslides, as well as widespread flash flooding. At the height of the storm, more than 800,000 lost power. Just weeks ago, snowfall across the United States shattered expectations. In Nashville, residents got their annual average snowfall in less than a day.

And this is just the tip of the (quickly dissolving) iceberg.

Since the beginning of 2024, countless scientific studies have been published that have had major implications for our understanding of climate change and weather events. I’ve read as much information as I can, and collected some of the most important ones:

We may need to expand the hurricane classification system.

Hurricane strength is generally rated on a scale of 1 to 5, based on wind speed. For example, Category 3 hurricanes have wind speeds of 111 to 129 mph, while Category 4 hurricanes have wind speeds of 130 to 156 mph. Category 5 is flexible and includes storms with wind speeds ranging from 157 miles per hour to infinity. The problem is that as climate changes, wind speeds continue to increase. For example, Hurricane Patricia in 2015 saw winds reach 215 mph.

Researchers recently explained in a paper published in 2018 that this huge scale is dangerous Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences. “The open end of the Saffir-Simpson scale could lead to an underestimation of risk,” the authors wrote. “This underestimation is becoming an increasing problem in a warming world.”

In this paper, authors Michael F. Weiner, of Berkeley National Laboratory, and James P. Kosen, of the nonprofit First Street Foundation, called the case for a Category 6 hurricane on the scale that could include winds of more than 192 mph. Weiner and Kossin found five Category 6 storms, all of which occurred in the past decade.

While the researchers are not formally proposing changes to the scale, they hope to “raise awareness that the risk of wind from storms currently classified as Category 5 has increased and will continue to increase under climate change.” Kosen stresses that communication is a key way to mitigate this risk. “Changes in messaging are necessary to better inform the public about inland flooding and storm surge.”

The world may have already exceeded the warming we thought we would reach in 2100.

In a study published by the magazine Nature’s climate In early February, researchers from the University of Western Australia, examining marine sponges, stumbled upon a disturbing fact: Earth’s temperature is warming about two decades faster than expected. In 2015, 174 countries came together to draft the Paris Accords, an international treaty on climate change, and agreed on one thing: It was crucial to prevent the world from warming by 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2100. Sir David King, a former chief negotiator from British Foreign Office at UN Climate Summit, told BBC News: “I am a prominent figure.” We have left this distinctive character in the dust, as in the study Nature’s climate It is estimated that we crossed the 1.5 threshold in 2020.

The researchers were able to reach this conclusion through careful examination of hard sponges, a slow-growing marine creature that can live for hundreds of years. The team used the ratio of strontium to calcium – the amount of each element in each sponge – from which the creatures were sampled to calculate the temperature of the water in the ocean over time. Due to the slow-growing nature of sponges, the team was able to go back to temperatures in the 16th century, something no other researcher has been able to do; The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations climate change body, relied on research from seafarers’ handwritten logs.

Outside scientists, such as Dr. Haley Kilburn of the University of Maryland, say the new research must be validated by other records before it completely changes our paradigm. But researchers feel confident in the hard sponges lying under the sea in an area of ​​the Caribbean Sea that is not affected by major ocean currents. It may be the ideal neutral watchdog for ocean temperature. “Changes in Puerto Rico mimic changes in the world,” Amos Winter, one of the study’s authors, told The New York Times. The New York Times.

Climate change deaths since 2000 reach 4 million

Last month, a climate change biologist at Georgetown University estimated that 4 million people have died from climate change between 2000 and today.

Biologist Colin Carlson reached this conclusion using the McMichael criterion, a 2000-era estimate that looked at deaths from malnutrition, flooding, diarrhea and malaria, and used computer modeling to estimate how many of those deaths were caused by climate change. Comment in the magazine Natural medicineAt the end of January, the report was titled: “After millions of preventable deaths, climate change must be treated as a health emergency.”

Carlson’s statistic is “certainly an underestimate,” says Wael Al-Dulaimi, an epidemiologist at the University of California, San Diego, who points out the lack of mortality data in low-income countries. Even the researchers involved in the McMichael criterion admit that they knew their model was conservative when they were applying it.

Around the same time as Carlson’s article was published, the World Economic Forum released a research report titled “Measuring the Impact of Climate Change on Human Health.” The report used a framework similar to the McMichael standard, considering how floods, droughts, wildfires, sea level rise, tropical storms and heat waves affect health. Their calculations estimated that 14.5 million people would die globally due to climate change by 2050. Daniel R. “These staggering numbers are actually conservative,” said Brooks, a professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Toronto, who was not involved in the research. grinding.

According to the World Economic Forum, these deaths do not come cheap. The report predicts that health care systems will bear $1.1 trillion in medical costs resulting from climate impacts.

Snow and fresh water masses have reached all-time lows.

Newsrooms across Washington, California, Montana and elsewhere reported “record low” levels of snowpack. Although snow is traditionally a concern for the world’s skiers and snowboarders, it is also an essential component of the water cycle. As the EPA explains, “Millions of people in the West depend on melting mountain snowpack for hydroelectric power, irrigation, and drinking water.” (Our latest water pack addresses the losses and risks of water loss.)

The January study was published in the journal nature Researchers demonstrated that global warming caused a decline in snowpack in the Northern Hemisphere from 1981 to 2020. The researchers identified 17.6 degrees Fahrenheit as the “tipping point” where snowpack begins to decline significantly and warned that “further warming is likely to… “It has rapid impacts on snow water resources.” In mid-latitude basins where people reside and place competing demands for fresh water.

The snow loss has nothing to do with the “rapid and accelerating” groundwater loss we reported on last week, which reported on another study in nature Groundwater, which has submerged nearly a third of the aquifers, has shown accelerating rates of decline in groundwater levels over the past four decades.

At this point in the climate apocalypse article, there is an incentive to start citing good climate news. There’s the growing use of renewable energy, a frog saved from extinction, and the unexpected benefit of anti-GPT chatting up climate change deniers, to name a few.

But when the numbers keep breaking false records — 2023 was the hottest year on record — sometimes we just have to count them.

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