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Home » Climate change increased probability of drought ‘at least 20 times’

Climate change increased probability of drought ‘at least 20 times’

Droughts spread across the planet

The drought, which affected large parts of Europe, China and the United States, is now at risk of occurring every 20 years, with the current climate, instead of every 400 years or even longer, as it happened in the past, according to the World Weather Attribution (WWA) report.

The WWA is a network of scientists investigating the relationship between extreme weather events and global warming. The consequences of that drought impacted the agricultural sector of dozens of countries, with low harvests and difficulties that affected world markets.

This situation also favoured forest fires and disrupted the production of electricity, particularly that of hydraulic and nuclear origin. Due to heat waves in the northern hemisphere (outside the tropics), the probability of drought multiplied by a factor of “at least 20”, details the text.

This means that at a depth of 1 meter, forest or agricultural soils suffer from a lack of water that affects the roots of plants in an accentuated way. “The exact figures are uncertain,” recognize these scientists, who work in prestigious institutes or organizations.

Anomaly in the June to August average root zone soil moisture w.r.t 1950-2022. Source: worldweatherattribution

The average temperature of the planet has increased by 1.2ºC since the pre-industrial era, according to studies by climate scientists. Experts from the European Joint Research Center had estimated this past summer that the drought was “the worst in the last 500 years.”

“More frequent and more intense”

“We have to stop burning fossil fuels if we want to stabilize climatic conditions and prevent these drought episodes from getting worse again. They will become more frequent and intense with increasing warming,” he warned.

In central and western Europe, the probability of drought is lower: between 5 and 6 times less important, according to calculations.

This variability is only due to the extension of the territory and the data analyzed.

“Typically the signals related to climate change are more important in larger regions,” explained Friederike Otto of Imperial College London, another co-author of the study, when introducing it to journalists.

“When we look at smaller regions, we find more daily weather variations in the data,” but that effect “is attenuated” when larger areas are studied, he explained.

increasing risk

WWA scientists, who investigate the link between climate change and extreme weather using a peer-reviewed method, looked at two different levels of soil moisture in the Northern Hemisphere, excluding the tropics, between June and August.

This year’s extremely dry conditions in the top meter of soil, also known as agricultural drought for its significant impact on crops and other vegetation, have become at least 20 times more likely than in a world without climate change, they found.

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The probability of dry conditions affecting the top 7 centimetres, or drought at the surface level, increased fivefold.

That risk is expected to increase as global temperatures rise further, study co-author Dominik Schumacher, a climate scientist at ETH Zurich, told reporters on Wednesday.

While the study itself did not assess future risk, Schumacher said the WWA models also returned results for 2C of global warming, the upper limit of the Paris Agreement.

Climate change increases drought

“The summer of 2022 demonstrated how human-caused climate change increases agricultural and ecological drought risks in agricultural and densely populated regions of the northern hemisphere,” said Sonia Seneviratne, a professor at the Institute for Climate and Atmospheric Science in Zurich, co-author.

“We have to stop burning fossil fuels if we want to stabilize climate conditions and prevent these drought episodes from getting worse again. They will become more frequent and more intense with increasing warming,” she warned.

In central and western Europe, the probability of drought is lower: between 5 and 6 times less important, according to calculations. This variability is only due to the extension of the territory and the data analyzed.

We have to stop burning fossil fuels if we want to stabilize climatic conditions and prevent those episodes of drought from getting worse again.

“Usually the signals related to climate change are more important in larger regions,” explained Friederike Otto of Imperial College London, another co-author of the study, when introducing it to journalists.

“When we look at smaller regions, we find more daily weather variants in the data,” but that effect is “attenuated” when looking at larger areas, she explained.

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