This entry is the first in a new series called “Secret Life Revisted.” In these posts we will revisit scientists who have already revealed their secret lives, and are back in the news for their exciting work in science—as it turns out, these folks get a lot done when they’re not busy talking to us!
Katharine Clarifies Climate Confusion
When an unprecedented storm devastates the country, you might expect a climate scientist or an Evangelical Christian to make some strong claims based on personal views. Katharine Hayhoe is both of those things—and yet, she’s not taking the bait.Katharine Hayhoe wants you to know what’s REALLY going on with climate change.
Hayhoe researches how climate change affects our lives (see Katharine in action on her homepage!), so as tweeters and mainstream media speculated that Sandy might be “caused” by global warming, naturally, they looked to her to confirm their suspicions. But she would do no such thing—instead, she spent a week clarifying misconceptions about the storm by sticking to the facts.
In response to a tweet pointing to climate change as Sandy’s cause, Hayhoe corrected, “Caused, NO. Lg hurricanes not unusual this time of yr. Exacerbated, v likely.”
Later, an impatient tweeter summarized, “@KHayhoe you are basically saying that in a 2 to 3 years time, data will support whether climatechange induced ‘frankenstorm’ or not.” Again, Hayhoe had to explain, “no; I am saying that research could estimate % by which climate change enhanced impacts of storm. It did not induce or cause.”
“First, large hurricanes in October are not at all unusual. About one of them hits the US every 5 years. This time, it was Sandy.
So did climate change cause Sandy? No: there is absolutely no evidence that it did. In fact, several future modeling studies suggest climate change may actually decrease hurricane frequency (although increasing the number of Cat 4 and 5 storms).
Second, while climate change more than likely exacerbated the impacts of the storm, the influence of climate change on sea level and ocean temperature is clearly less than natural variability at this time…
…[For now] we have absolutely no way to quantify or put a number on the impact of climate change on Sandy. We do know it wasn’t zero, and we do know it wasn’t 100% and probably not even 50% (which would qualify as ‘most’).
Now, in between 0 and 100% is a big range and you can bet that many scientists will be working on narrowing down that gap in the next few years. Stay tuned to the glacial pace of scientific journals over the next three years to find out more :)”
Thanks to Dr. Hayhoe for setting the record straight! Listen to Katharine discuss climate change and Hurricane Sandy with Howard Hughs here.