Intensifying precipitation due to climate change caused $75bn worth of damage to the U.S in just three decades, according to a study published by researchers at Stanford University.
At the crux of the debate around flooding is the question over whether the increase of flooding in the U.S. has been driven primarily by socio-economic factors like population growth and housing development or by environmental factors.
In an effort to close this research gap, the scientists looked at higher resolution climate and socioeconomic data.
They then applied advanced methods from economics to quantify the relationship between historical precipitation variations and historical flooding costs, along with methods from statistics and climate science to evaluate the impact of changes in precipitation on total flooding costs.
Together this analysis revealed that climate change has contributed substantially to the growing cost of flooding in the U.S.
The research team found that when totalled across all the individual states, changes in precipitation accounted for 36% of the actual flooding costs that occurred in the U.S. from 1988 to 2017.
The effect of changing precipitation was primarily driven by increases in extreme precipitation, which have been responsible for the largest share of flooding costs historically.
The authors have said that they hope their approach will be applied to different natural hazards in different sectors of the economy and to other regions of the globe in order to help understand the costs and benefits of climate adaptation and mitigation actions.
Senior author of the study and climate scientist Noah Diffenbaugh said: ‘Previous studies have analysed pieces of this puzzle, but this is the first study to combine rigorous economic analysis of the historical relationships between climate and flooding costs with really careful extreme event analyses in both historical observations and global climate models, across the whole United States.
‘By bringing all those pieces together, this framework provides a novel quantification not only of how much historical changes in precipitation have contributed to the costs of flooding but also how greenhouse gases influence the kinds of precipitation events that cause the most damaging flooding events.’
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