When asked about a particular weather event’s link to climate change, scientists are typically cautious to make definitive statements — especially in the immediate aftermath, before they’ve had the chance to study the event.
But according to a new study, it’s getting easier for scientists to make the link between climate change and some forms of extreme weather. The study, published Friday by the National Academies Press, found that scientific advances over the past several years have helped scientists link increases in frequency and intensity of temperature and precipitation-related events like droughts and heat waves to climate change.
“In the past, a typical climate scientist’s response to questions about climate change’s role in any given extreme weather event was ‘we cannot attribute any single event to climate change,'” the report, completed by a committee of scientists, reads. “The science has advanced to the point that this is no longer true as an unqualified blanket statement. In many cases, it is now often possible to make and defend quantitative statements about the extent to which human-induced climate change (or another causal factor, such as a specific mode of natural variability) has influenced either the magnitude or the probability of occurrence of specific types of events or event classes.”
The report calls this branch of science, wherein researchers work to determine whether climate change contributed to a certain event, “event attribution.” To determine how and if climate change is linked to a certain event, scientists typically either reference the observational record of similar events — i.e. the recorded history of droughts leading back several decades — or use models to determine how likely a similar event would be in different warming scenarios. Most studies, the report states, use both of these tactics. More