A new statistical analysis by NASA scientists has found that Earth’s land areas have become much more likely to experience an extreme summer heat wave than they were in the middle of the 20th century. The research was published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The statistics show that the recent bouts of extremely warm summers, including the intense heat wave afflicting the U.S. Midwest this year, very likely are the consequence of global warming, according to lead author James Hansen of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York.
“This summer people are seeing extreme heat and agricultural impacts,” Hansen says. “We’re asserting that this is causally connected to global warming, and in this paper we present the scientific evidence for that.”
Plotting bell curves for the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, the team noticed the entire curve shifted to the right, meaning that more hot events are the new normal. The curve also flattened and widened, indicating a wider range of variability. Specifically, an average of 75 percent of land area across Earth experienced summers in the “hot” category during the past decade, compared to only 33 percent during the 1951 to 1980 base period. Widening of the curve also led to the designation of the new category of outlier events labeled “extremely hot,” which were almost nonexistent in the base period.