Disasters & Extreme Weather

Published on March 10th, 2011 | by Joshua S Hill

Climate Change Not Responsible for Russian Heat Wave, but..

Climate Change enthusiasts sometimes like to blame every vaguely unnatural climatic event on the current warming of our climate, but sometimes there is simply no linkage. Researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the United States have found that the heat wave that rocked Russia in 2010 was not due to climate change, but rather a result of a natural atmospheric phenomenon.

The study, which will be published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, drew from scientific observations and computer climate models to evaluate the possibility that anthropogenic climate change was behind the deadly heat wave, or whether it was simply a result of natural processes.

Western Russia suffered extreme temperatures from July through to mid-August of 2010, with the mercury rising to anywhere between 30 °C to the low 40’s. The total death toll related to the heat wave was in the hundreds of thousands, with poor air quality from the wildfires (resulting from the heat) increasing deaths by at least 56,000 in Moscow and other parts of Russia.

Daily Moscow temperature record from November 1 2009 to October 31 2010. Red and blue shaded areas represent departures from the long-term average (smooth curve) in Moscow. Temperatures significantly above the long-term average scorched Moscow for much of July and August.

Climate Change versus Nature

The researchers could not rule out that climate change played no part in the summer event, but they could categorically say that if it was present, it played a much smaller role than the naturally occurring meteorological processes.

Lead author Randall Dole, deputy director of research at NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory, Physical Science Division and a fellow of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), noted that the intensity of the heat wave was a “climate surprise” unexpected in Russia’s current climate.

The research team sifted through long-term observations and results from a total of 22 climate models, trying to find trends that would help explain the unusually high temperatures in the region. On top of that, they also ran atmospheric models that used observed global sea surface temperatures, Arctic sea ice conditions, and atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations in 2010 to assess whether any of these factors came into play during the heat wave.

As it was, the heat wave, according to the researchers, “was due primarily to a natural phenomenon called an atmospheric ‘blocking pattern’, in which a strong high pressure system developed and remained stationary over western Russian, keeping summer storms and cool air from sweeping through the region and leading to the extreme hot and dry conditions. While the blocking pattern associated with the 2010 event was unusually intense and persistent, its major features were similar to atmospheric patterns associated with prior extreme heat wave events in the region since 1880.”

A Timely Warning

Extreme heat waves like the one to strike Russia are likely to be a more frequent reality, according to the researchers.

While climate change was not responsible for the 2010 heat wave, it may very well be responsible for more to come. The researchers suggest that the heat wave provides “a glimpse into the region’s future” as a result of the increasing amount of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere.

“It appears that parts of Russia are on the cusp of a period in which the risk of extreme heat events will increase rapidly,” said co-author Martin Hoerling, a research meteorologist, also from ESRL.

A Warming Hole

The researchers also found that western Russia has yet to experience the significant climate warming during the summer seasons that the larger part of the planet has encountered. Their research showed that the region had not experienced any significant warming during the summer season over the 130 years that they monitored, a period ranging from 1880 to 2009.

Such a “warming hole” is not an unusual event, nor is it even unique to the west Russian region, as the Earth does not warm uniformly.

Map of observed global temperature anomalies for July 2010, from NOAA analyses produced by the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC). Anomalies are determined with respective to the base period 1971 to 2000.

“We know that climate change is not taking place at the same rate everywhere on the globe,” said Hoerling. “Western Russia is one of the parts of the world that has not seen a significant increase in summertime temperatures. The U.S. Midwest is another.”

In the end, Dole compared his team’s findings to attempting to hear a quiet conversation whilst in the path of a noisy fan; any summertime signal of climate change over western Russia was entirely drowned out by the much larger climate variability which resulted from natural processes.

Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

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About the Author

I’m a Christian, a nerd, a geek, a liberal left-winger, and believe that we’re pretty quickly directing planet-Earth into hell in a handbasket!

I work as Associate Editor for the Important Media Network and write for CleanTechnica and Planetsave. I also write for Fantasy Book Review (.co.uk), Amazing Stories, the Stabley Times and Medium.
I love words with a passion, both creating them and reading them.

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  • Lets correct the headline to say that Man was not responsible for the Russian heatwave. Climate change was definitely responsible. What exactly caused the “blocking high” pressure system? Something MUST have added energy to cause the high to persist.
    I suggest that the researchers look at the paper “Gravity causes Climate Change” at http://www.scribd.com.
    The planets Venus & Jupiter were approaching an October perigee or closest point to Earth. When a planet is approaching closer, the force of gravity (&hence heat) is increasing, the potential energy of Earth relative to that planet is decreasing & resulting in more kinetic Energy and heat. Both of these coincide with the Russian heat wave & also the 2009-10 Australian heat waves. AND by coicidence, it was the same Venus & Jupiter approach to Earth that caused the 1998 peak temperature spike.
    AND surprise surprise, when they apss the closest point in October, the force & heat from gravity decreases, and the potential energy increases again resulting in more energy going from KE (temperature) to PE, & voila Europe and Russia get the coldest winter in decades.

    All natural & easily explainable and PREDICTABLE. NO CO2 involved at all.

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