Our planet’s climate is changing. Precipitation patterns are shifting, and extreme climate- and weather-related events like wildfires, record high and low temperatures, and heavy rainstorms are happening more frequently than ever. Research from top climate and weather scientists at the UW and around the globe point to a link between these observed changes and climbing levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. Climate change, extreme temperatures, wildfires, and storms are interrelated, and UW’s experts—through their depth of knowledge, convening power, and ongoing engagement with partners—are working to fuel big ideas that lead to meaningful impact.

Climate Change

The University of Washington’s natural hazards work touches every facet of climate change—from its effects in the Pacific Northwest and impacts on the developing world, to long-term climate cycles, geoengineering, and more. Exploring every corner of climate—including its past, present, and future, as well as mitigation and adaptation strategies—the UW and its partners are generating new, useful knowledge about how we can all participate in making the world a better place in the face of this global challenge.

Extreme Temperatures

All species and ecosystems are susceptible to the impacts of extreme heat and cold. Extreme temperatures meet you where you are, no coast or fault line required. Temperatures that hover above the average high for multiple weeks are extreme, as are temperatures colder than a region’s average low for an extended time. Both warm and cold waves can set the stage for a variety of health-related ailments—especially for children and older adults. Temperature-related natural hazards can also cause damage to agriculture, infrastructure, and property. Scientists and researchers at the University of Washington are working to understand warm and cold weather events and patterns, from both meteorological and climate perspectives, to better prepare us for an increased occurrence of both due to climate change.

Wildfire

Wildfires

Wildfires are capable of burning millions of acres of forested land and countryside each year in the United States. In 2015, nine million acres were charred by forest fires that couldn’t be tamed. Magnified by drought and climate change, wildfires are predicted to be worse in the future. Brush fires can start naturally or through human activities, but are exacerbated by environmental conditions that can lead to dryer vegetation and less yearly average rainfall. Scientists at the UW recently outlined their suggestions for overhauling forest fire management to reduce the impacts of inevitable wildfires in the coming years, and many groups at the university work on issue areas related to wildfires.

Severe Storms

Around the world, there are an estimated 16 million thunderstorms yearly. In the United States, there are roughly 100,000 thunderstorms each year—ten percent of which reach severe status. Severe storms, and the hail and wind they bring, can damage or destroy homes, infrastructure, and sometimes entire neighborhoods. These serious storms can also trigger other natural hazards, including floods, wildfires, and tornadoes.

Ship exhaust makes oceanic thunderstorms more intense

Thunderstorms directly above two of the world’s busiest shipping lanes are significantly more powerful than storms in areas of the ocean where ships don’t travel, according to new research.
A new study mapping lightning around the globe finds lightning strokes occur nearly twice as often directly above heavily-trafficked shipping lanes in the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea than they do in areas of the ocean adjacent to shipping lanes that have similar climates. 

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Q&A: How Idaho, Montana, North Dakota and Yellowstone National Park are confronting climate change

The Northern Rocky Mountain ecosystem includes huge swaths of federal lands, two national parks and some of the most spectacular wild spaces in the country. University of Washington researchers are helping managers of those lands prepare for a shifting climate.
“Climate Change and Rocky Mountain Ecosystems,” a book published in August, was edited by Jessica Halofsky, a UW research ecologist in the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, and David Peterson, a senior research biologist with the U.S. 

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Record-low 2016 Antarctic sea ice due to ‘perfect storm’ of tropical, polar conditions

While winter sea ice in the Arctic is declining so dramatically that ships can now navigate those waters without any icebreaker escort, the scene in the Southern Hemisphere is much different. Sea ice around Antarctica has actually increased slightly during winter — until last year.
About a year ago, a dramatic drop in Antarctic sea ice during spring in the Southern Hemisphere brought its maximum area to its lowest level in 40 years of record keeping. 

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