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Climate patterns must be viewed holistically, scientifically

Published: Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Updated: Tuesday, October 30, 2012 00:10

As Hurricane Sandy, dubbed “superstorm” and “Frankenstorm” for its size and impact, batters the East Coast with wind and rain, some may wonder why the storm is being felt in the northern U.S. rather than the south, in hurricanes’ usual homes.

A logical conclusion to draw is to blame it on human-accelerated climate change.

Yet, according to NPR, the link that scientists are able to make between hurricanes and global climate change is weak, unlike links between human action, climate change and other patterns such as temperature rise.

Hurricanes are so variable that “detected increases in contemporary storminess may not be a reliable indicator of human-induced climate change,” and in the case of large storms, it is too difficult to distinguish
natural variables from ones caused by humans, according to a scientific paper cited by the New York Times.

More research and time-related evidence is needed to establish the connection between a specific storm and global climate change, yet general weather patterns that have been proven to correlate to storm frequency show the link is a plausible one.

Though the severity and location of this storm cannot necessarily be attributed to human-linked climate change, other measurable factors have been scientifically proven to link climate and weather patterns with human actions — and these should not be forgotten when considering environmental concerns and effects on everyday lives, especially for future generations.

According to OnEarth Magazine, recent studies have shown that global sea levels have risen 8 inches since 1900, and are expected to rise more by the end of the century — up to 24 inches in some places. CNN reported that the average sea level rise is 3 millimeters a year, though the actual amount varies by location. Temperatures are expected to rise 5.4 degrees to 7 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100, contributing increasingly to melting polar ice caps, according to Climate Central.

Though the direct link between climate change and specific hurricanes is weak, Washington Post reporter Brad Plumer pointed out an important correlation with rising water levels.

“While storm surges are affected by a variety of factors, higher sea levels can help magnify those surges and exacerbate flooding,” he wrote.

The same goes for rising temperatures — and rising Earth temperatures have been correlated to surges in storm frequency, according to National Geographic.

These factors together make up “climate” and must be viewed as a whole when considering the impact of human actions on accelerated climate change.

Though it’s easy to point to “Frankenstorm” Sandy and attribute its wrath on the Northeast to climate change, it is important to step back and consider the science behind these claims. While trends point toward a warming planet that is likely to produce more of these storms, one storm cannot be pinned as a result.

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