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  • Houses submerged in floodwaters caused by Tropical Storm Harvey in Houston, Texas, August 2017.

    Houses submerged in floodwaters caused by Tropical Storm Harvey in Houston, Texas, August 2017. | Photo: Reuters

Published 17 January 2018

"We can no longer be shy about talking about the connection between human causes of climate change and weather," warns the American Meteorological Society

Humans are causing extreme weather and climate change, scientists have definitively declared: "We can no longer be shy about talking about the connection between human causes of climate change and weather," warns Jeff Rosenfeld, editor-in-chief of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (BAMS).

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The latest annual edition of BAMS concludes that three major climate events in 2016 were the direct result of human activity: the heat wave in Asia, the combined record global temperatures and the increase in ocean temperatures.

The rise in ocean temperatures off the Alaskan coast, says the study's lead scientist, Eric Oliver, was intensified "up to fifty times more" by human activity.

The prolonged oceanic heatwave that lasted 18 months was linked to a mass die-off of birds and responsible for decimating codfish populations along Alaska's gulf coast. It eventually altered California's weather, causing a severe drought in 2016.

Another BAMS report found a strong correlation between the human use of fossil fuels, atmospheric warming and the severity of the 2016 El Niño, which contributed to drought and famine in southern Africa.

The American Meteorological Society is already concluding that Hurricane Harvey, the 2017 category 4 storm that dumped 1.3 meters of rain on Houston, Texas, in a matter of hours was 15 to 19 percent our fault.

"I think [the BAMS studies] speak to the profound nature of the impacts we're now seeing," says Michael Mann, distinguished professor of Atmospheric Science and director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University.

Mann wants more research that doesn't just link individual climatic events to human influence, but investigates the connection between humans and larger atmospheric changes.

He suggests studies examining the rise in Earth's surface temperatures and increased atmospheric moisture, a major factor in Harvey's unprecedented deluge.

Scientists rmaine cautious about making too many connections between human activity and climate change. Andrew King, from the University of Melbourne in Australia, notes that modelling programs used to track climate change may miss some of the subtler changes in climate and oceans that can't be directly attributed to the human race.

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