An analysis from research group World Weather Attribution, released Thursday, shows that Southeastern Australia’s brutal heat waves in the past 2 months were likely related to climate change. Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick, of the Climate Change Research Center at the University of New South Wales, led the research after temperatures rose as high as 113 degrees Fahrenheit in some areas.
“It was nothing short of awful,” she said. “In Australia, we’re used to a little bit of heat. But this was at another level.”
The study found that extreme temperatures such as these are now 10 times as likely as they were 100 years ago before the sharp rise in emissions of greenhouse gases. It also found that if climate change continues unimpeded, extreme maximum temperatures could occur every five years. The higher than expected average temperatures, that set records across New South Wales, could be as much as 50 times more likely.
The study is part of a new wave of research that seeks to determine the effects of climate change on current extreme weather, and to publish this information while the weather is still a subject for discussion. Scientists have predicted an increase in heat waves, dry spells, and even major storms as climate change progresses. While these affects have already been shown on a global scale, local patterns are subject to natural variation in weather make it difficult to assess the cause of individual regional weather patterns.
World Weather Attribution is coordinated by research organization Climate Central, based in Princeton, NJ. They are one of several groups focusing on rapid analysis of extreme weather. They have examined flooding in France in Germany in May of 2016, high temperatures in the Arctic in November and December, and a severe storm in Britain in 2015. Not all of these weather patterns were found by the attribution studies to be a result of climate change. Heat waves, however, tend to offer clearer signs than other weather as to whether they are related to climate change.
Australian heat waves in particular have been the subject of these studies in the past. They showed a link between climate change and a 2013 heat wave, in a study that produced results six months after the heat wave.
University of Melbourne scientist David Karoly, who was involved in one of these studies, said “That was considered very rapid at the time.”
He is now a member of World Weather Attribution, and worked on the recent heat wave study, which took about 2 weeks to complete. The new study compared a computer climate model of the current atmosphere as its been affected by greenhouse gases, with a hypothetical model of an atmosphere unaffected by emissions. Older studies ran models again and again, taking a long time to complete.