The groundhog has evolved into a winning combination of cute and ungainly. This burrowing squirrel may resemble a furry cube with a leg at each corner, but do not be deceived by its bumbling, hapless charms: this is a Nostradamus of the animal world. In North American folklore, the groundhog can apparently be used to foresee the future, as many a town in the US and Canada will have vouched on February 2 as they celebrated Groundhog Day.
Hundreds of people have been killed since the start of the year as a result of earthquakes - including those who died this week following a 6.2-magnitude quake in Italy. With all the data we have on these natural disasters, why can we not reliably predict their occurrence?
In September this year, the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) will come to an end and a new set, running from 2015 to 2030, will be the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The MDGs included goals of eradicating extreme poverty and achieving universal primary education. Each goal had underlying numerical, and most importantly, measurable targets. But there was no target on the impact of disasters in the MDGs.
A heatwave over India that started on May 21 and has produced India’s highest recorded temperatures in two decades has claimed more than 2,000 lives and caused widespread devastation. It would be easy to dismiss this as a freak event, something so far out of the norm that there’s little chance of preparing for it. But this isn’t quite true. Even the most extreme events can be predicted – and prepared for.
The question of whether 2014 was or wasn’t the warmest year has recently exercised the minds of many. The answer, of course, is… no. At some point in the past, the Earth was a glob of molten rock pummelled by other rocks travelling at the kind of speeds that made Einstein famous, dinosaurs late and a very, very, very loud bang. There have also been periods, more hospitable to life (of various kinds), where global temperatures were in excess of what they are today.
At present, great preoccupation exists about climate change effects in many areas. A standard methodology to study them is to look for significant statistical relations between the variable we are interested in and meteorological variables (most often temperature, but not only). Then, predictions given by global climate models under expected CO2 increase scenarios are introduced in the obtained model to infer the possible consequences of climate change. Such a path has been followed even to assess future changes in life satisfaction or violent conflicts, receiving full attention from politicians.