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Scientists Work to Answer "Was That Climate Change?" for Individual Floods

In the immediate wake of a weather disaster, people like to wonder whether climate change is partly to blame for the disaster's severity. The problem is that any meaningful, serious answer to that question takes time—so much time that public attention has moved on before we get an answer.

For one group of climate scientists, that unfortunate problem sounded more like a challenge. With a good plan and the right setup, the team figured it could quickly run the necessary climate model simulations and spit out some basic results. By comparing a virtual world where humans didn’t drive up concentrations of greenhouse gases to the one we live in, the models can be used to see whether there's any change in the weather patterns associated with the latest disaster.

At the end of May, the team got a chance to take its system for a test drive. Weather linked to a lingering low pressure system dumped rain on France and Germany. Three days of steadily heavy rain, following a wet spring, caused flooding on the Seine and Loing rivers upstream of Paris. In Paris, the water level in the Seine rose more than 6 meters (over 20 feet), prompting the evacuation of art from basement levels of the Louvre. In other areas, thousands of human beings were evacuated as well.

UN Photo/Tim McKulka

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