Climate extremes: moving from physics to solutions

Professor Paul Whitehead joined over 35 scientists in the Swiss mountains to discuss how to assess and adapt to extreme climate events.

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Delegates at the climate extremes workshop, Riederalp, Switzerland

The most significant impacts of climate change are likely to be due to the increasing intensity and frequency of extreme weather events, such as droughts, floods, heat waves and wind storms. The costs of damage caused by these events could be extremely high.

The University of Geneva organised the workshop in Riederalp, Switzerland on 24-28 March 2015, bringing together a wide range of expertise on the science of climate extremes. The scope of the workshop also moved beyond physical science to consider impacts and adaptation policies for reducing climate-related risks and the costs of extreme events to vulnerable societies.

Paul Whitehead, Professor of Water Science at the School of Geography and the Environment, presented his research on modelling the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna river systems in India and Bangladesh, which together form one of the largest river basins in the world, providing water to over 650 million people.

The Oxford University research, which forms part of the ESPA Deltas project, assesses how future climate change and socio-economic change in the river basin will impact the flow of water and nutrients into the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Megha Delta. The results show that climate change could have significant impacts on river flows, both increasing wet season flows and leading to more frequent droughts. Socio-economic changes could impact flows during droughts, when irrigation will further reduce water availability. The modelling work also explores how management and policy interventions can reduce these impacts.

Participants at the workshop shared case studies of a variety of extreme events, from glacier lake dam bursts in the Himalayas, to heat waves in Moscow, wind gust events in Switzerland, and extreme snow storms in Austria.

An important outcome from the workshop will be a policy document for the 21st Conference of Parties (COP) in Paris in December 2015. The meeting’s discussions will also be presented to the EU Science Managers to inform them of this key area of research, which is largely missing in the major EU Horizon 2020 research programme.

Visit the climate extremes workshop webpage

Read more about the ESPA Deltas project

View Paul Whitehead’s powerpoint presentation on modelling climate change and socio-economic pathways in the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers

Academic publications on modelling the the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers, in the Journal Environmental Science: Processes and Impacts: