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Research to measure cost of climate change,  improve prediction of severe weather
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Research to measure cost of climate change, improve prediction of severe weather

NOAA researchers team up with partners on economic and other climate research

New research appearing online today in the journal Nature Climate Change by NOAA and partners forecasts the effects of climate change on countries' economic output and suggests that rising greenhouse gases may contribute to more extreme El Niños, the climate phenomenon that can trigger severe weather.

In one of three articles with NOAA authors, physical scientist Sarah Kapnick of NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton, New Jersey, teamed up with University of Arizona economist Derek Lemoine to propose a new method to predict how regional warming will affect the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of nations around the world.

Combining the latest physical models, socio-economic information and the economic impacts of past warming periods, Kapnick and Lemoine project that future warming could raise the average rate of economic growth in richer countries, reduce it in poorer countries and increase the variability of many countries' growth rates as warming increases climate variability.

“Our paper shows that poorer countries are more susceptible to climate change than richer countries and less able to adapt,” said Kapnick. “This research gives us another tool to calculate the costs of climate change.”

Lemoine added: “We’re not forecasting that climate change is good for any countries. We’re looking at a certain slice of how near-term climate change affects GDP. This does not take into account the full value of having a forest standing, having diverse species or other nonmarket values.”

“We need to drill down on these nonmarket costs in future research,” Lemoine added.

Predicting El Niños is key to forecasting severe weather

In a commentary in Nature Climate Change, Michael McPhaden, a senior scientist from NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle, explores the question of why a much anticipated El Niño did not occur in 2014, but an unforeseen strong El Niño is developing in 2015. McPhaden suggests several possible reasons, among which are long-term changes in background oceanic and atmospheric conditions, including warming trends in the Indian Ocean and western Pacific due to greenhouse gas emissions.

These background conditions affect the development of El Niño and its impacts by modifying feedbacks between the ocean and the atmosphere in the tropical Pacific.  McPhaden stresses the need for more research to improve prediction of El Niño, the dominant year-to-year climate phenomenon driving extreme weather conditions worldwide.

McPhaden and Gabriel Vecchi of NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory join with 15 other researchers in another paper, which suggests greenhouse warming is likely to contribute to more extreme El Niños and La Niñas in the future, triggering more catastrophic weather events.

“Research to improve the prediction of El Niño is so important to the world and also to our own country,” Vecchi said. “If we can confidently predict El Niño we can say something about what kind of weather to expect in the coming winter in various regions of our country. This will allow us to give communities and businesses environmental information to enable better decisions by organizations and individuals.”

To read “A top-down approach to projecting market impacts of climate change,” by Derek Lemoine and Sarah Kapnick, go to:

To read “Playing hide and seek with El Niño,” by Michael McPhaden, go to:

To read “ENSO and greenhouse warming,” by Wenju Cai and 16 other authors, including NOAA’s McPhaden and Gabriel Vecchi, go to:

To watch a short video explaining El Niño, go to:  

For more information, please contact Monica Allen, director of public affairs at NOAA Research, at 301-734-1123 or by email at

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Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR) - or "NOAA Research" - provides the research foundation for understanding the complex systems that support our planet. Working in partnership with other organizational units of the NOAA, a bureau of the Department of Commerce, NOAA Research enables better forecasts, earlier warnings for natural disasters, and a greater understanding of the Earth. Our role is to provide unbiased science to better manage the environment, nationally, and globally.


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