Simulations Forecast Nationwide Increase in Human Exposure to Extreme Climate Events

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By 2050, the United States will likely be exposed to a larger number of extreme climate events, including more frequent heat waves, longer droughts and more intense floods, which can lead to greater risks for human health, ecosystem stability and regional economies.

This potential future was the conclusion that a team of researchers from the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Istanbul Technical University, Stanford University and the National Center for Atmospheric Research reached by using ORNL’s now-decommissioned Titan supercomputer to calculate the trajectories of nine types of extreme climate events. The team based these calculations on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Information Climate Extremes Index, or CEI.

Previous studies have demonstrated the impact that a single type of extreme, such as temperature or precipitation, could have on broad climate zones across the U.S. However, this team estimated the combined consequences of many different types of extremes simultaneously and conducted their analysis at the county level, a unique approach that provided unprecedented regional and national climate projections that identified the areas and population groups that are most likely to face such hardships. Results from this research are published in Earth’s Future.

“We calculated population exposure at a 1-kilometer scale, which had never been done before, to provide more precise estimates,” said Moetasim Ashfaq, a climate computational scientist at ORNL.

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