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Climate change has contributed to dry Mediterranean winters, study finds

Lauren Morello, E&E reporter
Published: Friday, October 28, 2011

Climate change driven by human activities has contributed to a spate of dry winters in the Mediterranean over the past two decades, according to new federally funded research.

Normally, the period from November to April is the wettest part of the year in the Mediterranean region. But over the last 20 years, the area has experienced 10 of its 12 driest winters since recordkeeping began in 1902.

Researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say about half of the drying observed between 1902 and 2010 can be blamed on climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions.

Lead author Martin Hoerling, a scientist at NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory, said the shift to drier Mediterranean winters was intriguing in part because climate models have long suggested that, by the end of the century, climate change will reduce rain and snowfall in the region and increase the likelihood of drought in both winter and summer.

"This is one of the areas that has been termed a 'climate change hotspot' in the scientific literature," he said. "These hotspots are areas in which the climate change signal is very strong and also very reproducible among a host of models."

Beyond normal variation

But the scientists didn't assume that climate model projections of future drying meant that the recent change in winter precipitation was caused by climate change, Hoerling said.

They used a combination of observations and climate models to weigh the relative influence of several different factors, including human-caused climate change and a natural climate pattern called the North Atlantic Oscillation, on Mediterranean winters over the past century.

In the end, they concluded that natural climate variations weren't enough to explain the shift to drier winters observed since 1970, and climate change was playing a role.
"1970 to 2010, that 40-year period versus 1900 to 1970, was drier by an amount that you would not have expected just by chance," said Hoerling.

The study was published online this month by the Journal of Climate.


Reprinted from ClimateWire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net. 202-628-6500

 

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Reprinted from climatewire-10-31_11-11 with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net. 202-628-6500.


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