Defining a New Normal for Extremes in a Warming World

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

Année de publication
2017
Résumé
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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