Skip to comments.Nature paper: Global droughts unchanged in 60 years
Posted on 12/09/2012 8:46:50 AM PST by Ernest_at_the_Beach
How many images have we seen of drought-stricken cracked land, or been told this is the future? How many headlines have suggested that global warming causes droughts?
Since the end of World War II humans have produced some 85% of all their CO2 emissions, but here is a new study showing that for all those emissions, and for all that warming, droughts back then were just as bad globally as they are today.
Essentially, researchers thought that the Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI) was the way to measure global drought levels, and they thought that warming would increase global drought conditions. But the PDSI considers only temperature, not humidity, sunlight and wind. This paper shows that when these factors are included, worldwide drought is about the same now as it was in 1950.
Researchers are finally accounting for the fact that a warmer world usually means more evaporation (especially from the ocean) and thus more rain. Its good to see that someone has crunched those complex numbers on a global scale. Credit to Sheffield, Wood & Roderick.
The paper notes AR4 was wrong about this too:
The Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) summarized the evidence in the following terms: More intense and longer droughts have been observed over wider areas since the 1970s, particularly in the tropics and subtropics. Increased drying linked with higher temperatures and decreased
precipitation has contributed to changes in drought.
Its good to see this being reported on The Conversation, ScienceNews, and NewScientist. Naturally, this dangerous information could be misinterpreted (unlike most previous drought studies eh?) so caveats are rampant on The Conversation. The caveats take the usual meaningless and vague catch-all approach: this paper should not be misconstrued as evidence that climate change is not happening type of warning. Where were these caveat-writers when all the photos of cracked plains were showing on the evening news?
Now we find that Drought has not been an effective way of measuring climate change over the past 60 years, he said. [Michael Roderick, The Conversation]
Perhaps thats because things were a bit circular in drought science?
Roger Pielke Jr of the University of Colorado in Boulder says that since the PDSI uses a formula that assumes higher temperatures cause more droughts, it was hardly surprising that it finds a link. [ NewScientist]
Kevin Trenberth doesnt think this new method is right:
Simon Brown of the UK Met Office in Exeter says Sheffields analysis is probably right. There has been a growing acknowledgement that the PDSI should not be trusted when doing climate change studies, he says. But one of the lead authors of parts of the 2007 IPCC report, Kevin Trenberth of the US National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, is sceptical. He backs work by Aiguo Dai of the State University of New York, Albany, who reported last year that using the Penman-Monteith equation only slightly reduces the drying trend. [ NewScientist]
There are other scientists who are not convinced either:
The finding comes in stark opposition to the results of several recent studies. It presented a somewhat different view of the drying trend for the last 60 years, says Aiguo Dai, an atmospheric scientist at the State University of New York at Albany, whose own research suggests that the two equations yield very little difference in drought estimates. Dai says the new study fails to consider trends in soil moisture and other variables. He also claims that the new study relies on outdated weather records and questionable radiation data. However, Sheffield and colleagues attribute the disagreement to inconsistencies in the weather data used by Dai and others.[ScienceNews,]
But if its right, the new results may have wider implications:
Sheffields findings raise important questions, says Steve Running at the University of Montana in Missoula. If global drought is not increasing, if warmer temperatures are accompanied by more rainfall and lower evaporation rates, then a warmer wetter world would [mean] a more benign climate. [ NewScientist]
Actually Fred Pearce at NewScientist has done a respectable job of canvassing opinions from all sides. Its good to see.
If the paper stands up to scrutiny lets hope the information reaches a wider crowd. If they are right there is 20 years of propaganda to undo.
Little change in global drought over the past 60 years
Justin Sheffield1, Eric F.Wood1 & Michael L. Roderick2
Drought is expected to increase in frequency and severity in the future as a result of climate change, mainly as a consequence of decreases in regional precipitation but also because of increasing evaporation driven by global warming13. Previous assessments of historic changes in drought over the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries indicate that this may already be happening globally. In particular, calculations of the Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI) show a decrease in moisture globally since the 1970s with a commensurate increase in the area in drought that is attributed, in part, to global warming4,5. The simplicity of the PDSI, which is calculated from a simple water-balance model forced by monthly precipitation and temperature data, makes it an attractive tool in large-scale drought assessments, but may give biased results in the context of climate change6. Here we show that the previously reported increase in global drought is overestimated because the PDSI uses a simplified model of potential evaporation7 that responds only to changes in temperature and thus responds incorrectly to global warming in recent decades. More realistic calculations, based on the underlying physical principles8 that take into account changes in available energy, humidity and wind speed, suggest that there has been little change in drought over the past 60 years. The results have implications for how we interpret the impact of global warming on the hydrological cycle and its extremes, and may help to explain why palaeoclimate drought reconstructions based on tree-ring data diverge from the PDSI based drought record in recent years9,10.
Sheffield, Wood & Roderick (2012) Little change in global drought over the past 60 years, Letter Nature, vol 491, 437
H/t John Coochey, Willie Soon.
The short killer summary: The Skeptics Handbook. The most deadly point: The Missing Hot Spot.
“they thought that warming would increase global drought conditions”
Logically, a theory based on a faulty premise is faulty itself. No warming - nothing more to say.
Never before has anyone been awarded a Nobel prize for making a movie to prove that “weather happens”...
(Bump for the Skeptics Handbook - a must-read, must-have tool in the liberal myth debunkers arsenal)
Haven’t seen that before....thanks.
The dustbowl era drought made last summer look like a monsoon.
Has the fact that some extensive sets of satellite data in the past have been found to be in error been taken into account? or at least inconsistent with other satellites' data?
I do agree that the 800-pound gorilla in the room, the basic premise that significant anthropogenic global warming exists casts a giant shadow on any conclusions one way or the other.
Finally, that there have been huge changes in climate numerous times in the past renders all the handwringing and pronouncements of doom and gloom moot.
Going off half-cocked and spending trillion$ in scams and draconian laws to combat a chimera can hardly be appreciated as science or rational behavior.
Increasingly, I view it as a permanent jobs program for so-called scientists who have no desire to get a real job. Or low-IQ rich politicians desperately seeking to remain relevant.
I view the continuing wail of the alarmists about the same as I do the extreme apocalyptic "survivalists" ----- mild to severe nut jobs.
Conditions for major reservoirs: Dec 9, 2012
Trinity Lake 78%
Lake Shasta 66%
Lake Oroville 64%
New Melones 64%
Folsom Lake 60%
San Luis 45%
Don Pedro 61%
Millerton Lake 51%
Pyramid Lake 98%
Castaic Lake 86%
Pine Flat 23%
Conditions for major reservoirs: 27 May 2012
95% Trinity Lake
95% Lake Shasta
99% Lake Oroville
77% New Melones
95% Folsom Lake
66% San Luis
82% Millerton Lake
97% Pyramid Lake
95% Castaic Lake
82% Pine Flat