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Sophie C. Lewis, Andrew D. King, and Sarah E. Perkins-Kirkpatrick

Abstract

The term “new normal” has been used in scientific literature and public commentary to contextualize contemporary climate events as an indicator of a changing climate due to enhanced greenhouse warming. A new normal has been used broadly but tends to be descriptive and ambiguously defined. Here we review previous studies conceptualizing this idea of a new climatological normal and argue that this term should be used cautiously and with explicit definition in order to avoid confusion. We provide a formal definition of a new climate normal relative to present based around record-breaking contemporary events and explore the timing of when such extremes become statistically normal in the future model simulations. Applying this method to the record-breaking global-average 2015 temperatures as a reference event and a suite of model climate models, we determine that 2015 global annual-average temperatures will be the new normal by 2040 in all emissions scenarios. At the regional level, a new normal can be delayed through aggressive greenhouse gas emissions reductions. Using this specific case study to investigate a climatological new normal, our approach demonstrates the greater value of the concept of a climatological new normal for understanding and communicating climate change when the term is explicitly defined. This approach moves us one step closer to understanding how current extremes will change in the future in a warming world.

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Cassandra D. W. Rogers, Kai Kornhuber, Sarah E. Perkins-Kirkpatrick, Paul C. Loikith, and Deepti Singh

Abstract

Simultaneous heatwaves affecting multiple regions (referred to as concurrent heatwaves) pose compounding threats to various natural and societal systems, including global food chains, emergency response systems, and reinsurance industries. While anthropogenic climate change is increasing heatwave risks across most regions, the interactions between warming and circulation changes that yield concurrent heatwaves remain understudied. Here, we quantify historical (1979–2019) trends in concurrent heatwaves during the warm season [May–September (MJJAS)] across the Northern Hemisphere mid- to high latitudes. We find a significant increase of ∼46% in the mean spatial extent of concurrent heatwaves and ∼17% increase in their maximum intensity, and an approximately sixfold increase in their frequency. Using self-organizing maps, we identify large-scale circulation patterns (300 hPa) associated with specific concurrent heatwave configurations across Northern Hemisphere regions. We show that observed changes in the frequency of specific circulation patterns preferentially increase the risk of concurrent heatwaves across particular regions. Patterns linking concurrent heatwaves across eastern North America, eastern and northern Europe, parts of Asia, and the Barents and Kara Seas show the largest increases in frequency (∼5.9 additional days per decade). We also quantify the relative contributions of circulation pattern changes and warming to overall observed concurrent heatwave day frequency trends. While warming has a predominant and positive influence on increasing concurrent heatwave frequency, circulation pattern changes have a varying influence and account for up to 0.8 additional concurrent heatwave days per decade. Identifying regions with an elevated risk of concurrent heatwaves and understanding their drivers is indispensable for evaluating projected climate risks on interconnected societal systems and fostering regional preparedness in a changing climate.

Significance Statement

Heatwaves pose a major threat to human health, ecosystems, and human systems. Simultaneous heatwaves affecting multiple regions can exacerbate such threats. For example, multiple food-producing regions simultaneously undergoing heat-related crop damage could drive global food shortages. We assess recent changes in the occurrence of simultaneous large heatwaves. Such simultaneous heatwaves are 7 times more likely now than 40 years ago. They are also hotter and affect a larger area. Their increasing occurrence is mainly driven by warming baseline temperatures due to global heating, but changes in weather patterns contribute to disproportionate increases over parts of Europe, the eastern United States, and Asia. Better understanding the drivers of weather pattern changes is therefore important for understanding future concurrent heatwave characteristics and their impacts.

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Eric C. J. Oliver, Sarah E. Perkins-Kirkpatrick, Neil J. Holbrook, and Nathaniel L. Bindoff
Open access
Peter B. Gibson, Andrew J. Pitman, Ruth Lorenz, and Sarah E. Perkins-Kirkpatrick

Abstract

Understanding the physical drivers of heat waves is essential for improving short-term forecasts of individual events and long-term projections of heat waves under climate change. This study provides the first analysis of the influence of the large-scale circulation on Australian heat waves, conditional on the land surface conditions. Circulation types, sourced from reanalysis, are used to characterize the different large-scale circulation patterns that drive heat wave events across Australia. The importance of horizontal temperature advection is illustrated in these circulation patterns, and the pattern occurrence frequency is shown to reorganize through different modes of climate variability. It is further shown that the relative likelihood of a particular synoptic situation being associated with a heat wave is strongly modulated by the localized partitioning of available energy between surface sensible and latent heat fluxes (as measured through evaporative fraction) in many regions in reanalysis data. In particular, a several-fold increase in the likelihood of heat wave day occurrence is found during days of reduced evaporative fraction under favorable circulation conditions. The atmospheric circulation and land surface conditions linked to heat waves in reanalysis were then examined in the context of CMIP5 climate model projections. Large uncertainty was found to exist for many regions, especially in terms of the direction of future land surface changes and in terms of the magnitude of atmospheric circulation changes. Efforts to constrain uncertainty in both atmospheric and land surface processes in climate models, while challenging, should translate to more robust regional projections of heat waves.

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Sophie C. Lewis, Stephanie A.P. Blake, Blair Trewin, Mitchell T. Black, Andrew J. Dowdy, Sarah E. Perkins-Kirkpatrick, Andrew D. King, and Jason J. Sharples
Free access