Droughts, wildfires, heat waves, intense rainstorms—these are all extreme weather phenomena that occur naturally. But climate change is now increasing the frequency and magnitude of many of these events. Flooding in Paris and the Arctic heat wave are just two instances where climate change contributed to extreme weather in 2016—and there are many more examples.
Yet how do scientists know that global warming influenced a specific event? Until recently, they couldn’t answer this question, but the field of “attribution science” has made immense progress in the last five years. Researchers can now tell people how climate change impacts them, and not 50 or 100 years from now—today.
Scientific American spoke with Friederike Otto, deputy director of the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford, about how attribution science works and why it’s a critical part of helping communities prepare for and adapt to climate change.
WHAT EXACTLY IS ATTRIBUTION SCIENCE?
Whenever an extreme event happens, usually people ask, "Did climate change play a role?" We aim to provide scientific evidence to answer that question within the news time frame—so within two weeks of the event occurring.
Read More: Scientific American
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