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Predictions that climate change will result in wet regions getting wetter and dry areas drier in the future may be wrong, a new study looking at 1,200 years worth of data suggests.
The study, published in the journal Nature on Wednesday, found there had been more dramatic extremes of wet and dry weather in the centuries before the Industrial Revolution.
Researchers analysed evidence collected from tree rings, stream flows, ice cores and marine sediment, as well as historical records, to examine how weather conditions have changed over the centuries.
They discovered this reconstructed data was in close agreement with climate models – until the 20th century, that is.
During the previous century, climate models suggested that wet areas should have been wetter, and dry ones should have been drier than they were in reality.
Yet, the study showed more pronounced extremes than in the 20th century. For example, drought was most severe during the 12th century, while the 15th century was the coldest.
However, the study’s lead author, Fredrik Ljungqvist, was quick to point out that the findings in no way challenged the notion of climate change itself – instead, the data simply highlighted the complexities in predicting the climate in a warmer world.
Al Jazeera’s meteorologist Steff Gaulter explained: “It has been accepted that climate change will lead to arid locations becoming drier and wetter locations becoming wetter, but this study seems to disagree with this.
“If this study is correct, it would mean that it would be even more difficult for models to predict how climate change will affect the weather around the world than was previously thought.
“However, it’s important to remember that this is only one study and not the consensus of the scientific community. It raises important points, though, and calls for more research.”
Pinning down links between climate change and rainfall is vital to enable countries to prepare for changes in the weather.
Last December, 195 nations agreed to shift from fossil fuels and aim for zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2100 to rein in rising temperatures.
They also signed a pact to limit average global warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius over pre-Industrial Revolution levels, when fossil-fuel burning began.
However, in 2015, the global temperature was already 1C above the 1850-1900 levels.
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