Climate change has made heatwaves more severe

Scientists have used simulations run on the home computers of thousands of volunteers to investigate how climate change has affected the likelihood of heatwaves and other extreme weather.

‘Every recent heatwave has been made more severe by global warming,’ said Dr Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick, a  senior research associate in the Climate Change Research Centre at the University of New South Wales.

Heatwaves are Australia’s most dangerous natural disaster, causing more fatalities than all other natural disasters combined. Victoria's health authorities estimate that the 2009 heatwave, which preceded the Black Saturday bushfires, contributed to up to 374 deaths. 

‘We’re examining the climate factors that create heatwaves. There are four: the local atmospheric pressure pattern (persistent high pressure systems often lead to heatwaves), how dry the soil is, climate variability, and climate change,’ said Dr Perkins-Kirkpatrick.

‘We are disentangling climate change and exploring how it is affecting the physical set-up of heatwaves. We can work out how climate change has influenced the likelihood of a particular heatwave occurring, and now we want to know if the underpinning physical mechanisms have been altered, too. Scientists will soon be able to identify during a weather extreme the extent to which climate change has been responsible.’

‘Ultimately, the findings from our work will improve forecasts of climate extremes and will help assess and plan for their impacts.’

‘Weather at Home’ climate simulations contribute to Dr Perkins-Kirkpatrick’s findings. These simulations, run on home computers by thousands of volunteers, compare the weather that we experience now with simulations that remove the effects of climate change.

Dr Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick presented her results today at the 2017 conference of the Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society in Canberra. 

The Conference Program is available at: https://amos.eventsair.com/QuickEventWebsitePortal/amosmsnz2017/eventinfo

Twitter: #AMOS2017, @sarahinscience

For further information

Paul Holper, Scientell, 0407 394 661