Multi-million investment in rainfall prediction technology could ease climate change impact

Multi-million investment in rainfall prediction technology could ease climate change impact

Scientists are calling for investment in technology which will better predict rainfall.

A lack of progress in accurately predicting rainfall will hamper efforts to deal with the fallout of climate change, leading global scientists have warned.

In a paper published in Nature Climate Change, the scientists have called for a multinational $250m (€238m) annual investment in the technology and resources needed to better understand and predict rainfall, or the effects of climate change will be needlessly exacerbated.

Ireland has been no stranger to rain-led events such as floods and storms in recent years, with millions of euro worth of damage to the likes of West Cork towns such as Skibbereen and Bandon.

Sudden torrential rainfall in Cork in 2012 caused by a cloudburst left areas like Glanmire in Cork severely flooded, with residents in some areas struggling a decade on to get insurance for their homes.

Ireland is no stranger to surplus rainfall.
Ireland is no stranger to surplus rainfall.

The paper’s lead author, Professor Julia Slingo, of the University of Bristol’s Cabot Institute for the Environment, said: “The basis around which climate models have been built over the last 30 years misses some fundamental physics that we now know is essential for reliable predictions.

“The solution is within our grasp – we must take a quantum leap from our current 100km-scale global climate models to 1km-scale models.” 

Improving the models would mean the complex physics of rain-bearing systems is properly represented for the first time, she said.

Describing the need for it as “urgent”, the scientists said the investment should lead to the creation and resourcing of group of leading modelling centres, with pioneering computing and data facilities.

This climate prediction system would serve all nations, providing robust evidence across all aspects of climate change, it said.

Co-author and chief scientist at the UK Met Office, Professor Stephen Belcher, said: “The scale of the task is formidable. 

Even though our scientific understanding has moved on, as have the technological developments in computing and data storage, this endeavour requires an international effort.

While the $250m may seem a formidable investment, it would be small change compared to the sums needed to react to water-related climate change events, the scientists said.

Professor of Hydrology at the University of Bristol, Paul Bates, said: “This proposed investment pales into insignificance against climate-related losses, even today. It represents about 0.1% of the estimated annual costs of hydrological extremes, not counting for the lost lives, and these costs will only rise as climate change continues to bite.” 

The paper said that storms, floods and droughts are among the costliest impacts of climate change, and that changes in precipitation can have profound effects on many living systems.

This in turn threatens food security, water security, health and infrastructure investments, but current modelling struggles to predict it, especially on local and regional scales, it said.

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