Predicting extreme floods in the Andes mountains

Press release by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research


New forecasting method:

Predicting extreme floods in the Andes mountains

Predicting floods following extreme rainfall in the central Andes is enabled by a new method. Climate change has made these events more frequent and more severe in recent decades. Now complex networks analysis of satellite weather data makes it possible to produce a robust warning system for the first time, a study to be published in the journal Nature Communications shows. This might allow for improved disaster preparedness. As the complex systems technique builds upon a mathematical comparison that can be utilised for any time series data, the approach could be applied to extreme events in all sorts of complex systems.

“Current weather forecast models cannot capture the intensity of the most extreme rainfall events, yet these events are of course the most dangerous, and can have severe impacts for the local population, for example major floods or even landslides,” says lead author Niklas Boers of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). “Using complex networks analysis, we now found a way to predict such events in the South American Andes.”

When the monsoon hits South America from December to February, it brings moist warm air masses from the tropical Atlantic. Travelling westwards, these winds are blocked by the steep Andes mountains, several thousand metres high, and turn southwards. Under specific air pressure conditions, the warm air masses, loaded with moisture, meet cold and dry winds approaching from the south. This leads to abundant rainfall at high elevations, resulting in floods in the densely populated foothills of the Bolivian and Argentinian Andes. “Surprisingly, and in contrast to widespread understanding so far, these events propagate against the southward wind direction,” says Boers.

‘Big Data’ analysis of observational time series from satellites

The international team of scientists performed a ‘Big Data’ analysis of close to 50,000 high-resolution weather data time series dating from the 15 years since high quality satellite data became available, generated by NASA together with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. “We found that these huge rainfall clusters start off in the area around Buenos Aires, but then wander northwestward towards the Andes, where after two days they cause extreme rainfall events”, says Boers. The new method makes it possible to correctly predict 90 percent of extreme rainfall events in the Central Andes occurring during conditions of the El Niño weather phenomenon when floods are generally more frequent, and 60 percent of those occurring under any other conditions.

“While the findings were hard to derive, local institutions can now apply them quite easily by using readily available data, which helps a lot,” says co-author José A. Marengo of the National Institute for Space Research in Sao Paulo, Brazil. “Major rainfall events can result in floods which for instance in early 2007 alone produced estimated costs of more than 400 million US dollars in the region. It is now up to the affected countries to adapt their disaster preparation planning.”

Method can be applied to the climate, but also to financial markets

“Comparing weather data sounds simple enough, but it actually took the new mathematical tool that we developed to detect the intricate connections that lead to the extremes,” says co-author Jürgen Kurths, co-chair of PIK’s research domain Transdisciplinary Concepts and Methods. “The data was there, but nobody joined the dots like this before. The method provides a general framework that could now be applied to forecast extreme changes in time series of other complex systems,” says Kurths. “In fact, this could be financial markets, brain activity, or even earthquakes.”

Article: Boers, N., Bookhagen, B., Barbosa, H.M.J., Kurths, J., Marengo, J.A. (2014): Prediction of extreme floods in the eastern central Andes based on a complex networks approach. Nature Communications (online) [DOI: 10.1038/ncomms6199]

Weblink to the article once it is published:

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PIK press office
Phone: +49 331 288 25 07
Twitter: @PIK_Climate

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  1. Poo says:

    “The urge to save humanity is almost always a false-front for the urge to rule it.”…H.L. Mencken

    Though dead, even a noted humorist and cynic like H.L. would see climate change for what it is; the ultimate rationalization for the Utopian Socialists to rule the world.

    At the end of the day, it’s all about legacies now isn’t it? For the U.N., it’s just another failure among many except their climate folly has been the most expensive of all previous misadventures. Still the latest gathering in New York did provide one giant photo op for those whose life gains meaning by posing with Hollywood spokes models like Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo. Ooooh! Be still my heart.

    For Obama, it is his desperate search for the elusive legacy that will make people forget the greatest debt of all time, greater even than all his predecessors combined were able to achieve. Of course, that would be forgetting the trillion dollar, never to be paid back student debt and the tepid economic growth represented by part time jobs courtesy of Wal Mart and Starbucks. To achieve a low unemployment number his people remove those who stopped looking for work rumored to be between 1-2 million. We count them as do most others. Healthcare? The sky rocketing costs and the above mentioned debt will see it savaged no matter who gains the White House. So it is climate change, don’t you see? His green initiatives having already blown a billion or two, or was it four, who really knows? The following is a list of all the clean energy companies supported by President Obama’s stimulus program that are now failing or have filed for bankruptcy. Admittedly, there is not an Andes flood stopper among them.

    Evergreen Solar
    Solyndra (received $535 million)
    Beacon Power (received $43 million)
    AES’ subsidiary Eastern Energy
    Nevada Geothermal (received $98.5 million)
    SunPower (received $1.5 billion)
    First Solar (received $1.46 billion)
    Babcock & Brown (an Australian company which received $178 million)
    Ener1 (subsidiary EnerDel received $118.5 million)
    Amonix (received 5.9 million)
    The National Renewable Energy Lab
    Fisker Automotive
    Abound Solar (received $400 million)
    Chevy Volt (taxpayers basically own GM)
    Solar Trust of America
    A123 Systems (received $279 million)
    Willard & Kelsey Solar Group (received $6 million)
    Johnson Controls (received $299 million)
    Schneider Electric (received $86 million)

    No doubt more will surface if surface is the correct word for failure. For the record, some of these loans went to foreign clean energy companies (Fisker sent money to their overseas plant to develop an electric car). Also, 80% of these loans went to President Obama’s campaign donors. Can we talk legacy?

    As for dear old Potsdam, they have developed a “New forecasting method.” Oh joy! And they’ve moved their defective models to the Andes. To predict floods following rainfalls in the Andes Mountains is like predicting that night follows day. But add the words ‘extreme’ and ‘severe’ and voila, yet another fund raising model is born courtesy a new “complex networks analysis.” What a surprise!

    This new mythology is so grand it can, according to Jürgen Kurths, co-chair of PIK’s research domain Transdisciplinary Concepts and Methods, even work for “financial markets, brain activity, or even earthquakes.” Wow! Maybe it can cure cancer too.

    With the global warming scare dying amid a flurry of failed global warming predictions, many world leaders didn’t even bother to attend the latest U.N. gab fest in New York. China, India, Germany, Russia, just some of the world’s largest economies and largest emitters of carbon dioxide, couldn’t be bothered. Neither could Canada’s PM or Australia’s for that matter, among others. The if-come of a few warm breezes decades after their deaths may have something to do with it. They have real voters and problems like war, terror, disease, poverty and 1.3 billion people with no electricity and other such realities that need their attention and/or money. They have legacies too. They know climate change isn’t it, never was.

    Still, it was lovely to see the United Nations host yet another lah di dah party for world leaders in New York. Terrorism, disease and starvation spread almost exponentially yet the UN continues to throw 5 star parties all around the world, usually in 5 star hotels. What was it this time, oh yes, climate change, ho hum.

    The modern environmental movement rose out of the dregs of the New Left movement of the 50s and the Peace Movement of the 1960s. They were looking for something to do. Many of the left leaning persuasion migrated into environmentalism. By then, green power was seen as the new vehicle for destroying capitalism as well as gaining political power. Global cooling morphed into global warming then climate change, extreme weather and now climate disruption. Control through energy has become every Utopian Socialists dream, I mean fantasy. You’ve got to hand it to their wordsmiths. Never mind there are fewer tornadoes or hurricanes or sweltering days now than ever. Ice levels in the Arctic and Antarctic are firmly within normal ranges. Everything is new and extreme for those with no sense of history nor any interest in looking it up, I mean Googling it.

    But even the useless U.N. no longer claims there will be dangerous or rapid climate change in the next two decades. Last September, the U.N.’s I.P.C.C. quietly downgraded the 30 year warming forecast it had previously pulled from a hat, I mean rigged model in 1995. Now the expected increase, picked by dart board, in the years leading up to 2025, is anticipated to be about 0.5 degrees Celsius. It had previously been guesstimated at 0.7. If alive then, would I even wear clothing faced with such scorching temperatures?

    Up here, in the Frozen White North, we had a lovely May-June but a cool July-August. The first heat alert in Toronto, south of here, was August 26th. August 26th! You call that a summer? Maybe this fall. We seem to be heading for what we called in my youth, an Indian summer. That’s probably a politically incorrect term nowadays though I can’t imagine why.

    The only thing ‘extreme’ this year was the use of the word so let’s talk winter. The 2013–14 North American winter featured a cold wave from December 2013 to April 2014. At least 49 record lows for the day were set across the U.S. on January 7. While daily records were challenged in January the coldest day in U.S. recorded history still remains –79.8°F, observed at Prospect Creek Camp in the Endicott Mountains of northern Alaska on Jan. 23, 1971. For global warming enthusiasts the record high remains at 134 degrees F recorded in Death Valley on July 10, 1913. Summer 2014 was far too cool to challenge that.

    Not that anyone cares but our record low up here in the frozen north did not occur last year but back in 1947. Back a further 10 years (1937) finds our record high. Extreme? Just the alarmists.

    The fact is the climate-research establishment, including the cocktail circuit IPCC, has finally admitted what skeptic scientists have been saying for nearly a decade: Global warming has stopped since shortly before this century began. I mean paused, on hiatus, but coming back, definitely, soon, we’re sure, aren’t we? First the climate-research establishment denied that a pause existed. Of course they did as a pause would invalidate their theories and their rigged models. Now they say there is a pause (or “hiatus”), but that it doesn’t invalidate their theories after all. There you have it. They’re right either way, even when they are, by their own admissions, wrong. Huh? Their explanations have made their predicament worse. They are now implying that man-made climate change is so slow and tentative that it can be easily overwhelmed by a natural variation in temperature. This is an obvious possibility these geniuses had previously all but ruled out.

    Climate scientist and geologist Bob Carter, (James Cook University, Australia) wrote in 2006 that there had been no global warming since 1998 according to the most widely used measure of average global air temperatures. Naturally, there was an outcry. In 2007, David Whitehouse of the Global Warming Policy Foundation in London made the same point. In Britain in 2005, Phil Jones of the University of East Anglia also wrote, “The scientific community would come down on me in no uncertain terms if I said the world had cooled from 1998.”

    A pause of some 15 years would be so significant it would invalidate the climate-change models upon which the climate industry builds its policy, such as it is. A report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) written in 2008 made this clear: “The simulations rule out (at the 95% level) zero trends for intervals of 15 years or more.” As luck would have it, the pause has now lasted for 16, 19 or 26 years—depending on whether you choose the surface temperature record or one of two satellite records of the lower atmosphere. That’s according to a new statistical calculation by Ross McKitrick, a professor of economics at the University of Guelph in Canada.

    It has been roughly two decades since there was a trend in temperature significantly different from zero. The burst of warming that preceded the millennium lasted about 20 years and was preceded by 30 years of slight cooling after 1940. Let us not forget that we are only 164 years removed from the Little Ice Age. It had to warm up some or we would still be in it!

    Most science journalists prefer predictions of extremities, of alarm, even of panic. Readership, ratings and money are sure to follow. Over the last few years, they have advanced nearly 40 different excuses for the pause including Chinese economic growth, the removal of ozone-eating chemicals, an excess of volcanic emissions, a slowdown in magnetic activity in the sun and oh yes, strong trade winds in the Pacific Ocean. Spare me. If they dedicated their talents to science fiction, their audience would be far better served.

    Even the modest warming in the 1980s and 1990s was exaggerated by natural causes. The man-made warming of the past 20 years has been so feeble that a shifting current in one ocean was enough to wipe it out altogether.

    Taxpayers of the Western world have nothing to show for the billions of Dollars and Euros poured down the Climate Change Drain. The legacy is the lost opportunities to do something useful and truly make a difference in the lives of so many people. If some honest person ever does a cost analysis on the U.N.’s grand scheme to combat climate, the results will be astronomical, in terms of money wasted and lives that have been made substantially worse rather than better.

    The road to hell is paved with good intentions. So it has been that Worldwide Global warming policies have kept oil prices high and supplies in the hands of tyrants. The Middle East would be less of a cauldron of hate without so much money for terrorism and weaponry, not much I suppose but less. Funders of Islamic terrorism would have been strapped for cash. ISIS largely relies on generous grants from energy-exporters like Qatar, a Muslim Brotherhood-friendly emirate and on sales from its own oil fields, captured in battle. Without inflated prices neither of these revenue sources would have taken ISIS far.

    Iran, Qatar’s rival for the title of No. 1 funder of Islamic terrorism, would also have been strapped for cash, unable to bankroll terrorists like Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Assad in Syria. This is not to mention their terror cells and activities that spread over 5 continents.

    Europe would not be held hostage by Russia as it is today. China would not be threatening its neighbours Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam over barren islands in the South and East China Seas because they might have energy deposits. The value prospect of oil and gas would greatly diminish, along with the logic of going to war for them, if energy became cheap and plentiful. Climate extremists have had some successes over the last two decades in slowing the development of the oil sands, blocking major pipelines, phasing out coal plants and banning shale gas and oil projects. If you define success as delaying inevitable energy projects which keep the west beholden to the real dirty oil of dictatorships and bullies, well then they have had some success.

    Even with the activist roadblocks, the U.S. has managed a miraculous transformation from major importer to major exporter. It was Obama’s good fortune that he presided over strong increases in domestic oil production that were a result of decisions made before he took office. This would be the shale and fracking of which he now boasts; decisions he would have personally vetoed, by the way. Today, only Europe remains subject to dictates from energy exporters, most of them from unsavoury and hostile areas such as the Middle East, Russia and Venezuela. That’s the real dirty oil!

    These hostile economies should have lost their chief markets and the bulk of their revenues long ago to a world awash with energy. Putin would never have become so emboldened had Mother Russia been sapped of the strength energy provided. He would be unable to threaten his neighbours in Ukraine and the rest of Eastern Europe. Russia relies on energy for 30% of its GDP, Venezuela for 33% and some Middle East countries for more than 50%. Nasty regimes such as these would have been forced to focus on self-preservation, domestic policies and their citizens rather than spreading themselves and their ideologies beyond their own borders. Or maybe they wouldn’t. Nasty people and thugs do nasty things. But with less money, they’d do far less.

    Today, most Western governments are reining in their global warming policies, slashing their ruinously expensive subsidies to renewables and aggressively developing fossil fuels. All that the global warming scare accomplished was to make people pay. Tens of millions of Europeans now suffer “fuel poverty,” the household term in Europe for those who now can’t afford to pay their power bills. There has also been an increase in wars, terrorism and global insecurity.

    The recent IPCC summit produced the usual regurgitation of non-binding commitments to over-the-horizon emissions reductions and ending deforestation (without Brazil on board), with yet more promises of money to poorly-governed countries. Mr. Obama revealed that “climate resilience” would henceforth be factored into foreign aid. In fact, the real hope for the poor lies in getting rid of the governments that tend to be kept in power by foreign aid. Their other critical need is for more fossil fuels as the left denies them atomic power and the sun and the wind can’t do it alone.

    China is now the world’s largest carbon user and emitter, twice as much as the United States. Carbon is the stuff of life; we all emit it and China has the greatest number of people emitters. They all need electricity and transportation and industrialization. That’s why they’re building two coal-fired power plants a week. Ergo, emissions keep going up.

    No matter what they may say, there is no chance that China will reduce its carbon emissions. They want to be rich and industrialized too. They are also the West’s factory. A case can be made that we outsource our emissions to them. Not a great case but a case. Let’s face it, they’re pollution and emission controls run from weak to none. They have far worse problems than colourless, odourless, harmless carbon dioxide. On some days you can see the air and their land and water really are polluted. Of course, they would be more than happy to reduce their carbon emissions for a piece of that phony $100 billion a year fund from the United States, Canada and Europe each and every year. That’ll happen!

    Closer to home, scientists tell us that the sea level off the west coast of Canada has risen some 100 meters from where it once lapped our shores 14,000 years ago. Kinda makes you wonder what those right wing indigenous people were burning for their heating and cooking needs. Had they no thought for the future, for me? Were there no regulations, no big government, no Potsdam? Pity no one made them a model. Maybe they might have stopped. And oh yes, there is a rain forest out there on the west coast and they had floods too, even 14,000 years ago!

    The alarmists need not worry, as climate interuptus fades the left will soon find a new cause. Hell, there are grants and jobs to protect. I predict it will be the Because. Watch for it.

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