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Framing the way to relate climate extremes to climate change


  • Kevin Trenberth



The atmospheric and ocean environment has changed from human activities in ways that affect storms and extreme climate events. The main way climate change is perceived is through changes in extremes because those are outside the bounds of previous weather. The average anthropogenic climate change effect is not negligible, but nor is it large, although a small shift in the mean can lead to very large percentage changes in extremes. Anthropogenic global warming inherently has decadal time scales and can be readily masked by natural variability on short time scales. To the extent that interactions are linear, even places that feature below normal temperatures are still warmer than they otherwise would be. It is when natural variability and climate change develop in the same direction that records get broken. For instance, the rapid transition from El Niño prior to May 2010 to La Niña by July 2010 along with global warming contributed to the record high sea surface temperatures in the tropical Indian and Atlantic Oceans and in close proximity to places where record flooding subsequently occurred. A commentary is provided on recent climate extremes. The answer to the oft-asked question of whether an event is caused by climate change is that it is the wrong question. All weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be. Copyright The Author(s) 2012

Suggested Citation

  • Kevin Trenberth, 2012. "Framing the way to relate climate extremes to climate change," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 115(2), pages 283-290, November.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:climat:v:115:y:2012:i:2:p:283-290
    DOI: 10.1007/s10584-012-0441-5

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    Cited by:

    1. Markku Rummukainen, 2013. "Climate change: changing means and changing extremes," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 121(1), pages 3-13, November.
    2. Vaibhav Chaturvedi & Priyadarshi Shukla, 2014. "Role of energy efficiency in climate change mitigation policy for India: assessment of co-benefits and opportunities within an integrated assessment modeling framework," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 123(3), pages 597-609, April.
    3. Allen Thompson & Friederike Otto, 2015. "Ethical and normative implications of weather event attribution for policy discussions concerning loss and damage," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 133(3), pages 439-451, December.
    4. repec:spr:climat:v:144:y:2017:i:2:d:10.1007_s10584-017-2048-3 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Jascha Lehmann & Dim Coumou & Katja Frieler, 2015. "Increased record-breaking precipitation events under global warming," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 132(4), pages 501-515, October.
    6. Stuart Capstick & Nicholas Pidgeon, 2014. "Public perception of cold weather events as evidence for and against climate change," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 122(4), pages 695-708, February.
    7. Yongdeng Lei & Jing’ai Wang, 2014. "A preliminary discussion on the opportunities and challenges of linking climate change adaptation with disaster risk reduction," Natural Hazards: Journal of the International Society for the Prevention and Mitigation of Natural Hazards, Springer;International Society for the Prevention and Mitigation of Natural Hazards, vol. 71(3), pages 1587-1597, April.

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