Welcome to The Deep science and technology column where we cover topics from the deep sea to deep space and beyond.
So, let’s see a show of hands. How many of you read your horoscope every day and genuinely believe it will predict the kind of day you’ll have? I do an activity where I take the daily horoscope predictions from a couple days before, remove all references that would peg each prediction to a certain sign and type them up at random on a sheet of paper. Then I ask my audience to remember ‘day before yesterday’ and pick their horoscope for that day from the list. Strangely enough, the number of correct answers is almost always less than the number that would be predicted by random chance.
I’ve also made an interesting observation. The number of people that believed strongly in the ability of other people to predict the future dropped dramatically after 9-11 and as near as I can tell, the numbers still haven’t recovered. I guess the general consensus is that if you couldn’t predict that (and no one did) you aren’t worth your salt as a prognosticator!
I ran across two very interesting items in the ‘climate’ file that were both published in reputable scientific journals last February. They both involve predicting the future, something scientists aren’t generally noted for. Let’s see what they had to say 5 months ago.
In a paper appearing Feb. 14 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a 12-member research team warned that drought, the build-up of combustible fuel, the spread of fire-prone species and increased tree death from insects and heat are creating the ideal conditions for “a perfect storm” of wildfires all across the American West.
Wildfires have been debated for years as either a destructive force of nature that should be eradicated or a natural force that keep ecosystems healthy. For nearly 100 years, U.S. Forest Service policy has been to suppress all wildfires, but in recent years, local forest managers have been given more latitude to evaluate which fires to suppress, while ensuring public safety.
According to the researchers, our suppression of wildfires during the 20th century has caused a massive buildup of dead trees and that climate change and this increase in fuel will cause burning levels will be higher than at any time over the past 3,000 years. And as long as all that fuel is out there, the West will continue to burn.
Of course it isn’t just lots of fuel but higher temperatures and drought. Also last February, a different group of scientists from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory showed that previously rare high summertime temperatures are already occurring more frequently in the mainland U.S. Their climate models project that previously rare, extremely hot summer temperatures will occur in well more than 50 percent of summers by mid-century throughout the lower 48 states.
The team first compared the period 1975-2000 to the preceding 25 years, and found that average summer temperatures that were rare in the earlier period occurred more often in the later period. Then they assessed the present period and found summer temperatures that were extreme during 1950-1979 occurred much more often in the 21st century. A second statistical analysis showed that this increase is unlikely to be caused by regular weather variations like El Ninos or La Ninas.
They predict that the south, southwest and northeast will have the largest increases in the frequency of unusually hot summers. The increase in extremes in the southwest and northeast is explained mainly by the current and predicted increase in carbon dioxide emissions, the main driver of human-caused climate change. The researchers say that what was historically a one in 20-year occurrence will now occur with at least a 70 percent chance every year.
So, has anyone been following the news? Colorado Springs? How hot is it on the East coast? Apparently it IS possible to predict the future!