Climate Change

Climate change: Scientists look at 20th century data, heat extremes for early-warning signals

The study found that early-warning signals existed before global warming and were possibly due to the interplay of multiple environmental determinants

By DTE Staff
Published: Thursday 16 July 2020

Scientists are looking at newer ways to detect early-warning signals for potentially devastating climate change effects: By tracking temperature evolution in pre-global warming era of 20th century with the most recent heat wave events using data analytics.

Researchers from Arizona State University and Stanford University are tracking global historical temperature data comprising pre-event signatures, tipping points and intensity of heat extremes. The aim is to investigate the early‐warning signals in global warming and regional heat waves based on temperature records.

“Many studies have identified such changes in climate systems, like the sudden end of glacial period,” said Chenghao Wang, a former ASU research scientist now at the Department of Earth System Science at Stanford University.

“These qualitative changes usually have early-warning signals several thousand years before them.”

The study found:

  • Critical slowing down prior to heat waves was likely due to the interactions of multiple determinants
  • The contrast of urban–rural signature was identified for early‐warning signals of extreme heat waves

The research, thereby, found that early-warning signals existed before global warming and were possibly due to the interplay of multiple environmental determinants, such as the drying soil during droughts and the heat accumulated in the atmosphere.

There were differences in the early‐warning signals between urban and rural temperature records. The research highlighted the presence of early‐warning signals days (years) prior to heat waves (abrupt global warming).

In addition to global historical temperature data, the team tracks current temperature variances from airport weather stations. If it’s abnormally hot, compared to 30 years of record, for at least three consecutive days, it’s considered a heat wave.

With the higher frequency and intensity of heat wave events in a warming future, the results can be used to design mitigation and adaptation strategies beforehand, according to the researchers.

According to Zhihua Wang, an ASU environmental and water research engineering associate professor, the research can help support prediction over the next decades or even century.

The method also creates a new frontier for evaluating how things like global energy consumption and the introduction of urban green infrastructure, are affecting climate change, said Wang.

“We’re not replacing existing evaluation tools,” he said. “The data is already there. It’s enabling us to gauge what actions are having an impact.”

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