On record-breaking extremes

You don’t need a 1,000-page computer model code to find out some pretty interesting things about extreme events. The few lines of matlab code below are enough to perform the Monte Carlo simulations leading to our main conclusion regarding the Moscow heat wave – plus allowing you to play with the idealised U-shaped climate discussed above. The code takes a climate curve of 129 data points – either half a sinusoidal curve or the smoothed July temperature in Moscow 1881-2009 as used in our paper – and adds random white noise. It then counts the number of records in the last ten points of the series (i.e. in the last decade of the Moscow data). It does that 100,000 times to get the average number of records (i.e the expected number). For the Moscow series, this code reproduces the calculations of our recent PNAS paper. In a hundred tries we find on average 41 heat records in the final decade, while in a stationary climate it would just be 8. Thus, the observed gradual climatic change has increased the expected number of records about 5-fold. This is just like using a loaded dice that rolls five times as many sixes as an unbiased dice. If you roll one six, there is then an 80% chance that it occurred because the dice is loaded, while there is a 20% chance that this six would have occurred anyway.

Nice article, this is the kind of science that I like — simple models/analyses that look at data from the best angle. Science doesn’t have to be complicated.

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