Climate Change Focus of CHANCE Special Issue

Scott Evans, CHANCE Executive Editor

The United States is still feeling the effects of three major hurricanes this year. In late August, Hurricane Harvey brought record rainfall and flooding to Houston. In September, Hurricane Irma ravaged Florida. Shortly thereafter, Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico causing more than 50 deaths. Months later, most of Puerto Rico is still without power and many people lack access to clean drinking water. Suspected cases of leptospirosis bacterial infections are rising.

Climate change is the environmental challenge of our and the next generation. Though there are deniers, NASA and climatology scientists have described the compelling evidence of climate change.

Global temperatures are rising. 2016 was the warmest year on record, making it the third year in a row with record-setting surface temperatures. Furthermore, eight of the 12 months (January – September, with the exception of June) were the warmest on record for those respective months. Earth’s average surface temperature has risen about 2.0/1.1 degrees Fahrenheit/Celsius since the late 19th century, when records began at a global scale.

CHANCE Special Issue

This change is driven largely by increased carbon dioxide (CO2) in our atmosphere—now at its highest point in 3 million years at 400 parts per million (2016)—and other human-made emissions. Most of the warming occurred in the most recent 35 years, with 16 of the 17 warmest years on record occurring since 2001. The oceans have absorbed much of this increased heat, with water temperatures rising 0.302 degrees Fahrenheit since 1969.

Other effects of climate change are readily observable. The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have decreased in mass. Data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment show Greenland lost 150 to 250 cubic kilometers (36 to 60 cubic miles) of ice per year between 2002 and 2006, while Antarctica lost about 152 cubic kilometers (36 cubic miles) of ice between 2002 and 2005. Glaciers are retreating almost everywhere around the world, including in the Alps, Himalayas, Andes, Rockies, Alaska, and Africa. Satellite observations reveal that the amount of spring snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere has decreased throughout the last 50 years and that snow is melting earlier. Global sea levels rose 8 inches in the last century, with the rate in the last two decades nearly doubling that of the last century. The extent and thickness of Arctic sea ice has declined rapidly. Extreme weather events have increased in frequency and intensity. Since 1950, the number of record-high-temperature events in the United States has increased, while the number of record-low-temperature events has decreased. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the acidity of surface ocean waters has increased by 30 percent. The impact of climate change is enormous and growing. Vulnerable to climate change impacts such as droughts, floods, heat waves, extreme weather events, and sea-level rise are 800 million people (11% of the world’s population).

Humans play a role in creating problems, but can also play a role in addressing them. The protection of nature is one key part of the solution. Eleven percent of global greenhouse gas emissions caused by humans can be blamed on deforestation, comparable to the emissions from all cars and trucks on the planet.

A worldwide effort to curb climate change is crucial. The Paris Agreement or Paris Climate Accord plots a new course in the global climate effort, bringing nations together for the common cause to combat climate change and adapt to its effects, with enhanced support to assist developing countries to do so. The aim is to strengthen the global response to climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius. As of October 2017, 195 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) members have signed the agreement and 169 have become party to it, agreeing to limit global warming and adapt to climate change in part through the use of nature-based solutions. Unfortunately, the United States has threatened to withdraw from the agreement.

Eight articles and an editorial discuss climate change and its impact. Articles were authored by members of the ASA’s Advisory Committee on Climate Change Policy, whose mission is to inform Congress, the public, and others about climate change science. Peter Craigmile, past chair of the ASA’s Advisory Committee on Climate Change Policy, served as the guest editor for this special issue.

The complete list of articles and columns includes the following:

  • “The Role of Statistics in Climate Research” by Peter F. Craigmile, professor in the department of statistics at The Ohio State University

  • “How We Know the Earth Is Warming” by Peter Guttorp, professor at the Norwegian Computing Center and professor emeritus in the department of statistics at the University of Washington

  • “Instruments, Proxies, and Simulations: Exploring the Imperfect Measures of Climate” by Craigmile and Bo Li, associate professor in the department of statistics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

  • “Climate Model Intercomparison” by Mikyoung Jun, associate professor in the department of statistics at Texas A&M University

  • “Climate Change Detection and Attribution: Letting Go of the Null?” by Dorit Hammerling, section leader for statistics and data science at the Institute for Mathematics Applied to Geosciences of the National Center for Atmospheric Research

  • “Quantifying the Risk of Extreme Events Under Climate Change” by Eric Gilleland, project scientist at the Research Applications Laboratory at the National Center for Atmospheric Research; Richard W. Katz, senior scientist at the Institute for Mathematics Applied to Geosciences at the National Center for Atmospheric Research; and Philippe Naveau, senior scientist at the Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l’Environnement (LSCE) at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique

  • “Statistics and the Future of the Antarctic Ice Sheet” by Murali Haran, professor in the department of statistics at Penn State University; Won Chang, assistant professor in the department of mathematical sciences at the University of Cincinnati; Klaus Keller, professor in the department of geosciences and director of SCRiM at Penn State University and adjunct professor in the department of engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University; Robert Nicholas, research associate at the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute and managing director of SCRiM at Penn State University; and David Pollard, senior scientist at the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute at Penn State University

  • “Ecological Impacts of Climate Change: The Importance of Temporal and Spatial Synchrony” by Christopher K. Wilke, Curators’ Distinguished Professor of Statistics at the University of Missouri

  • “Projecting Health Impacts of Climate Change: Embracing an Uncertain Future” by Howard H. Chang, associate professor in the department of biostatistics and bioinformatics at Emory University; Stefanie Ebelt Sarnat, associate professor in the department of environmental health at Emory University; and Yang Liu, associate professor in the department of environmental health at Emory University