Monday 27 March 2017

Extreme weather the 'new normal' for next century

Significant: Dr Conor Murphy of Maynooth University. Picture: Jason Clarke
Significant: Dr Conor Murphy of Maynooth University. Picture: Jason Clarke

Ciara Treacy

New research suggests Ireland is likely to face more periods of extreme temperatures, rainfall and drought than ever before throughout the 21st century.

The findings from Maynooth University forecast that extreme seasonal conditions are to be the "new normal" by the end of this century.

The research is part of the ongoing project 'Irish Climate Futures: Downscaling for Decision Making' led by Dr Conor Murphy of Maynooth University's Department of Geography and working collaboratively with international colleagues.

Researchers have used more than 150 years of data to project extreme seasonal conditions on Ireland.

The results show that the likelihood of seasonal extremes has increased significantly since records began.

The summer of 1995 was the driest and warmest on record and projections show that as many as 26 out of the final 30 years of this century could be even warmer than this.

However, the research has warned that an increase in extremely warm summers will have significant consequences for society, as despite Ireland's temperate climate, mortality rates in Ireland are affected by temperature.

The summer of 1995 saw a notable rise in mortality.

A suggested increase in dry summers and wet winters also implies a challenge for water resource management and agriculture.

For wet winters, the most extreme one on record occurred in 1994/95, although the group is awaiting figures for the winter just past.

The new research suggests that one in every eight winters will be as wet as the wettest so far experienced.

These trends look likely to increase further.

The project aims to more effectively link climate science to the needs of decision makers who will ultimately be tasked with adapting to climate change.

"The impetus behind this research was a desire to combat the 'psychological distancing' that is widespread amongst the general public and decision makers," said author Dr Tom Matthews, previously of Maynooth and now at Liverpool John Moores University.

"There is an undeniable need for us all to reduce our emissions and plan appropriately for climate change.

"However, there is a common perception that climate change is temporally, geographically, or socially distant from people's lives, and this reduces public engagement with the issue.

"By contextualising climate change relative to extreme weather that people have observed in their own lifetimes, it is our hope that this research will provide a more tangible reference point for a wide range of audiences," he added.

Maynooth University President Philip Nolan welcomed the findings, which he said were "academically significant and socially important".

"Climate change is the most pressing problem facing humanity as a whole, and Maynooth University academics and scientists have consistently distinguished themselves in their efforts to tackle it," he said.

The study, the first of its kind in Ireland, explored the increasing likelihood of seasonal extremes.

Using data dating back over 150 years, it identified the most extreme weather periods on record and then developed climate model experiments to project patterns over the next 100 years.

Irish Independent

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