Dr Friederike Otto & climateprediction.net featured in FT article on extreme weather

Dr Friederike Otto & climateprediction.net featured in FT article on extreme weather

Financial Times insurance correspondent Oliver Ralph recently asked both victims of flooding and experts in climate science, insurance, building and mapping how Britain is responding to extreme weather.

The article describes how Friederike Otto and other researchers at the University of Oxford are investigating how much man-made climate change is contributing to the sort of extreme rainfall that causes floods.

The volunteer experiment climateprediction.net uses the computing power of thousands of home and work computers all over the world to run models testing the impact of small changes in temperature on specific regions – something that is difficult to achieve even with powerful supercomputers.

Climateprediction.net is a collaborative project between the Centre (led by Associate Professor and Associate Director - Innovation David Wallom), the Environmental Change Institute where Dr Otto is Deputy Director, and other University of Oxford departments.

Dr Otto says the modelling has shown that "extreme rainfall is becoming more likely, especially in winter".

A flooding experiment run in 2014 found a small but significant increase in the probability of extremely wet winters in southern England. This was the first scientific experiment to analyse whether the risk of extreme rainfall has increased due to climate change, using data from the three months between December 2013 and February 2014, when total rainfall in Oxford was the highest recorded by the Radcliffe Observatory in the past 200 years.

Tens of thousands of weather simulations in today's climate were compared with examples from a hypothetical world, one that has not been influenced by greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere. This comparison allows the researchers to estimate the influence of climate change on UK weather.

They found that, overall, the simulations showed that the risk of a very wet winter has increased by around 25% (with a 1-in-100 year rainfall event now estimated to be a 1-in-80-year event).

Dr Otto concluded, "It will never be possible to say that any specific flood was caused by human-induced climate change. We have shown, however, that the odds of getting an extremely wet winter are changing due to man-made climate change. Past greenhouse gas emissions and other forms of pollution have 'loaded the weather dice' so the probability of the south of England experiencing extremely wet winters again has slightly increased."

Anyone wanting to take part in future climate experiments by volunteering spare time on their home or work computer should visit http://www.climateprediction.net/getting-started/.

You can tailor the settings so that BOINC (a generic platform for distributed computing) only runs models while you're not using your computer, or overnight – so there should be no reduction in performance when you want to use it for other things. (Please note that after 8 years running on millions of PCs, there have been no security incidents due to BOINC.)



Image: By bayerberg (Flickr: UK Floods, Staines-upon-Thames, Swan Hotel) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons