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August 18, 2022

Very wet and very dry: unprecedented droughts and hyper-damaging floods in the future

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What will the future climate reality hold for humans on a fast-warming planet?

Brought to you by Cosmos Magazine and The Echo

Two studies show us just how vulnerable the Earth is.

The world will be pushed to more weather extremes in coming decades, according to two studies which carry stark warnings of floods and droughts, respectively.

The studies, both published in Nature Communications, find that billions of people are exposed to once-in-100-year floods, and many others will be exposed to “unprecedented” droughts within the next 30 years, under global warming scenarios.

The drought study examines the probability of severe drought in a variety of vulnerable places around the world.

The researchers modelled river discharge around the world until the end of the 21st century, under both high and low greenhouse gas-emissions scenarios.

“Regarding precipitation and temperature, preceding studies report the timing at which the impact of climate change emerges,” says co-author Tokuta Yokohata, chief senior researcher at the Earth System Division in Japan’s National Institute for Environmental Studies.

“However, no study had successfully estimated the timing in terms of drought focusing on river discharge at a global scale.”

More on extreme weather events: Tropical cyclones 13% less frequent with global warming

The modelling showed that 25 per cent of the world’s land can expect an increase in drought frequency by 2050 in a low-emissions scenario. With high emissions, this rises to 28 per cent.

“The projected impacts of warming show significant regional disparities in their intensity and the pace of their growth over time,” says co-author Yusuke Satoh, a research associate professor at Korea Advanced Institute of Science & Technology, South Korea.

Mediterranean regions, southern and central South America, and Australia are particularly vulnerable regions.

“Appropriate and feasible climate mitigation and adaptation plans are essential for overcoming the expected extraordinarily severe dry conditions,” says Satoh.

“Particularly regarding adaptation, it is crucial to improve our preparedness in the given time horizon before unprecedented drought conditions emerge.”

More on drought reslience: Victorian rivers aren’t recovering from drought

This sentiment is reflected in the flood study which finds that right now, 1.81 billion people live in places that could experience depths of at least 15cm if a once-in-100-year flood were to occur. This represents nearly a quarter of the world’s population.

Of this population, 780 million are living on less than $US5.50 ($A7.95) per day. Indeed, 89% of flood-exposed people live in low and middle-income countries.

South and East Asia had the highest populations exposed to flood risk – China and India make up a third of the 1.81 billion (395 million people in China, and 390 million in India).

More on flood vulnerability: Mapping floods on every street in the world

The researchers point out that climate change is likely to exacerbate this risk.

“Estimates from 11 climate models converge to the conclusion that flood frequencies in Southeast Asia, East and Central Africa, and large parts of Latin America could increase substantially by 2100,” they write in their paper.

The researchers combined a flood exposure assessment of 188 countries with the World Bank’s Global Subnational Atlas of Poverty to complete their analysis.

“Flooding is a risk with global prevalence, and systematic risk mitigation measures are crucial to prevent the loss of lives and livelihoods, and reversals of development progress,” write the authors.

Interested in having science explained? Listen to our new podcast.


This article was originally published on Cosmos Magazine and was written by Ellen Phiddian. Ellen Phiddian is a science journalist at Cosmos. She has a BSc (Honours) in chemistry and science communication, and an MSc in science communication, both from the Australian National University.

Published by The Echo in conjunction with Cosmos Magazine.


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13 COMMENTS

  1. After 26 meetings (Cop26), the International govts have put nothing credible in place to stop the greenhouse pollution slide. In fact the Cop26 Meeting saw India and China remove themselves from the previous global Cop25 global emission reduction agreements, and the US High Court has just ruled that US states dont need to comply with the US Federal emission reduction commitments (not that the Us Feds complied with their own Cop25 Commitments). Heading to hell in a handbasket, unless……

    • That’s because China and India aren’t stupid, they are banking on you falling for it and shutting down the Western economy to help their BRICS+ coalition gain global dominance.

  2. Yet more baseless alarmism, it was predicted that there would be no more snow by 2020, now there’s more snow than ever and the coldest start to winter for 30 years, wheres the global warming when you need it? A lot of countries that are not Australia are building coal fired power stations because renewables don’t perform , China has 2363 plants is planning to build 1171 more, Japan has 90 and is building 45 more , Australia is planning to shutdown its six remaining plants in order to save the world, net zero means net zero power and higher power bills.

    • Oh Anton, you are so funny.
      Clearly you haven’t informed yourself about the reason for our rising power prices before you scribbled away.
      But of course a fossil fool lover like yourself can’t the accept the fact that it is the rising cost of fossil fuels ( coal and gas ) and the broken down / off line coal power plants wot dunnit.

      Feel free to keep moaning about clean and cheap solar and wind power and happily keep paying through the nose for your beloved, expensive, unreliable and planet killing coal.

      • Joachim you are a first class Hypocrite
        Anton a fossil fuel lover you say ? So are
        You ..will stand corrected if you are residing
        In a cave .. we dont want to hear anymore
        Of your ******** Joachim..the reason why
        Our power prices are out of control is
        The closing down of coal fired power plants
        Just like that have done in Germany & the
        UK and about to switch back on why ?
        Because they are F cold and the trillions
        Spent on renewables are useless..
        Any country lecturing Australia regarding
        Our 1.3 percent or global emissions can go get nicked ..including some of the Pacific nations implying they are about to be consumed because of Australia.. never heard so much nonsense.. yet in the next breath
        Cosy up to china for $ the biggest polluter
        In the world .. 💯 percent correct Anton ..

        • He’s baaack, “doing a Barrow”.

          Normally I would say that trolls should be blocked but for you Barrow my man, I make an exception, and I say thank you to the Moderator of these fine pages of the Echo for allowing you to keep scribbling away so that you can continue to bring attention to your lies, idiocy and stupidity.

          Barrow, keep it going old son.
          The more you scribble, the more a goose you make of yourself.

  3. Panicking about standard floods and droughts is up 300%
    Refusing to build new dams and instead, turning towns into dams is up 500%

    • Lismore – record flood event that saw lives lost.
      Hawkesbury-Nepean, 4 flood events in 18 months with 3 of those just this year.

      Nothing standard about these flood events, but yes you back with more of your standard trolling.

      • No Joachim gaslighting again ?
        The record flood was in the late
        1800’s in lismore .. 2 meters over
        The 2022 flood… incidentally
        What has the predominantly lismore
        Green council achieved
        In the past 2 decades to mitigate
        Future catastrophic flood events ?
        I will answer that for you Joachim
        SFA .. and this 💯 can be backed up
        By families that have over a 100 years of
        History in lismore.. yeah but dont let the
        Truth get in the way of a good story ..!!

        • Ah, he’s back and “doing a Barrow”.

          Record flood for Lismore is …14.4 metres, 28/2/2022…that’s the official measure, NOT the ‘Barrow Truth’ of makings up and trolling.

  4. I imagine the lack of comments here, is due to the fact that nothing in this article is new or unexpected.
    David Suzuki, for one, forecast in 1970 just this outcome of ‘the Green House Effect”.
    Physics dictates that , if you add energy to a system it becomes more volatile. As a lot of the community have moved to “the Hinterland” to escape just these adverse outcomes that are generated by our government’s refusal to believe the science, and only making token ineffective measures to address this World-wide calamity.
    We all know what we are experiencing and what to expect , none of it is good news.
    Cheers, G”)

    • As you add energy to an open system, it starts to shed that energy at an exponentially faster rate. Each kilo of CO2 does less than the last.

    • Uh all those scientists hooked on government
      Grants !! Not one environmental prediction
      Have come true in the past 50 years ..

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