Are extreme weather conditions such as droughts, heat waves, intense storms triggered by human-caused climate change?
This is a question that Noah Diffenbaugh, a professor of Earth system science at Stanford's School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences, and his research team always get.
But the answer to this seemingly simple question is never simple. In fact, scientists, in the past, generally avoid linking specific climate or weather events to global warming because of several different factors that cause them. But that was before.
Global Warming Check
In an emerging study released in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Diffenbaugh and his Stanford colleagues designed a four-step framework to check whether global warming played a role in record-setting weather events that happened in different parts of the globe.
Global warming is the gradual increase of the average temperature of the Earth's atmosphere and its oceans, which according to climate experts, changes the climate permanently.
Using their framework to investigate the hottest, wettest, and driest events, the researchers discovered that global warming from human emissions of greenhouse gases increased the probability and intensified the severity of some of the hottest events for more than 80 percent of the surface area of the world.
Extreme Event Attribution
Diffenbaugh's work is the latest addition to the promising field of climate science called extreme event attribution, which uses statistical analyses of climate observations with sophisticated computer programs to delve deeper and determine the influence of climate change on individual extreme weather events.
Climate scientist Adam Sobel called the latest study a "step forward" from case studies done in the past.
"[The study] allows general statements about what fraction of events of the given types selected have a statistically significant anthropogenic influence subject to the assumptions," Sobel, who's the director of Columbia University's Initiative on Extreme Weather and Climate, said in an email to the Washington Post.
How Is The Earth Faring With Global Warming?
Aside from human influence, the increased volumes of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases released by the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, and natural phenomena, such as volcanic eruptions, are believed to be the primary culprits of the global warming that has occurred over the last five decades.
According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration the levels of carbon dioxide, which is a heat-trapping gas, in our air today is at its peak in 650,000 years.
NASA also reported that the global temperature has risen to 1.7 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880, the Arctic ice minimum has declined by 13.3 percent per decade, and the global average sea level has increased nearly 7 inches over the last century.