“Fingerprints” of climate change are clear in Pakistan’s devastating floods
In this case, however, just how big a role climate change played isn’t clear.
It’s relatively straightforward to conduct an attribution study that assesses the influence of warming in heat waves, where hotter average temperatures push up the baseline that such sweltering events take off from. The group has precisely calculated how much climate change altered the odds of the blistering Pacific Northwest heat wave last year (such conditions would be “at least 150 times rarer without human-induced climate change”), the recent UK heat wave (climate change made it “at least 10 times more likely”), and the one in Pakistan and India earlier this year (“30 times more likely”).
But using climate models to pinpoint global warming’s role in amplifying the full monsoon season proved trickier, the researchers noted in a press statement. World Weather Attribution chalked up the uncertainty to some combination of the wide variability in heavy rainfall patterns over long periods, natural processes at work that the models may not fully capture, and the weather quirks of the territory. The Indus River basin is located at the western edge of the region’s monsoon area, where there are big differences in rainfall trends between the dry west and wet east.
On the other hand, weather records clearly show that the region’s heaviest periods of rainfall have become more intense in recent decades, by about 75% in the two hardest-hit provinces. Some models found that climate change may have increased rainfall by as much as 50% during the five wettest days of the two-month monsoon season in those areas.
“So while it is hard to put a precise figure to the contribution of climate change, the fingerprints of global warming are evident,” Friederike Otto, a senior lecturer in climate science at Imperial College London and one of the leaders of World Weather Attribution, said in a statement.
In a scientific paper released on Thursday, the team of researchers noted that a combination of meteorological forces drove the extreme rainfall. They included a La Niña event, which cools upper ocean waters and carries greater than usual rainfall across large parts of the world, coupled with unusually hot spring and summer weather across Pakistan. Those simmering temperatures also accelerated the melting of the thousands of glaciers that feed the Indus River, though it’s unknown how much that contributed to the flooding.
Climate scientists have long warned that global rainfall patterns will become more erratic as the planet warms, making both very wet and very dry periods more common. Among other factors, warmer air holds more moisture, sucks the water out of soils and plants, and alters atmospheric pressure systems. The UN’s climate panel projects that the South Asian monsoons will become more variable from year to year in the coming decades but increase in intensity overall across the 21st century.
Pakistan’s heaviest days of rain are likely to become even more extreme as temperatures tick up, World Weather Attribution found. That underscores the need for the country to fortify its river banks, homes, and other infrastructure to protect citizens—and for rich nations that have produced a wildly disproportionate share of climate pollution to do everything they can to help.
Inside the conference where researchers are solving the clean-energy puzzle
The Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E) funds high-risk, high-reward energy research projects, and each year the agency hosts a summit where funding recipients and other researchers and companies in energy can gather to talk about what’s new in the field.
As I listened to presentations, met with researchers, and—especially—wandered around the showcase, I often had a vague feeling of whiplash. Standing at one booth trying to wrap my head around how we might measure carbon stored by plants, I would look over and see another group focused on making nuclear fusion a more practical way to power the world.
There are plenty of tried-and-true solutions that can begin to address climate change right now: wind and solar power are being deployed at massive scales, electric vehicles are coming to the mainstream, and new technologies are helping companies make even fossil-fuel production less polluting. But as we knock out the easy wins, we’ll also need to get creative to tackle harder-to-solve sectors and reach net-zero emissions. Here are a few intriguing projects from the ARPA-E showcase that caught my eye.
“I heard you have rocks here!” I exclaimed as I approached the Quaise Energy station.
Quaise’s booth featured a screen flashing through some fast facts and demonstration videos. And sure enough, laid out on the table were two slabs of rock. They looked a bit worse for wear, each sporting a hole about the size of a quarter in the middle, singed around the edges.
These rocks earned their scorch marks in service of a big goal: making geothermal power possible anywhere. Today, the high temperatures needed to generate electricity using heat from the Earth are only accessible close to the surface in certain places on the planet, like Iceland or the western US.
Geothermal power could in theory be deployed anywhere, if we could drill deep enough. Getting there won’t be easy, though, and could require drilling 20 kilometers (12 miles) beneath the surface. That’s deeper than any oil and gas drilling done today.
Rather than grinding through layers of granite with conventional drilling technology, Quaise plans to get through the more obstinate parts of the Earth’s crust by using high-powered millimeter waves to vaporize rock. (It’s sort of like lasers, but not quite.)
The emergent industrial metaverse
Annika Hauptvogel, head of technology and innovation management at Siemens, describes the industrial metaverse as “immersive, making users feel as if they’re in a real environment; collaborative in real time; open enough for different applications to seamlessly interact; and trusted by the individuals and businesses that participate”—far more than simply a digital world.
The industrial metaverse will revolutionize the way work is done, but it will also unlock significant new value for business and societies. By allowing businesses to model, prototype, and test dozens, hundreds, or millions of design iterations in real time and in an immersive, physics-based environment before committing physical and human resources to a project, industrial metaverse tools will usher in a new era of solving real-world problems digitally.
“The real world is very messy, noisy, and sometimes hard to really understand,” says Danny Lange, senior vice president of artificial intelligence at Unity Technologies, a leading platform for creating and growing real-time 3-D content. “The idea of the industrial metaverse is to create a cleaner connection between the real world and the virtual world, because the virtual world is so much easier and cheaper to work with.”
While real-life applications of the consumer metaverse are still developing, industrial metaverse use cases are purpose-driven, well aligned with real-world problems and business imperatives. The resource efficiencies enabled by industrial metaverse solutions may increase business competitiveness while also continually driving progress toward the sustainability, resilience, decarbonization, and dematerialization goals that are essential to human flourishing.
This report explores what it will take to create the industrial metaverse, its potential impacts on business and society, the challenges ahead, and innovative use cases that will shape the future. Its key findings are as follows:
• The industrial metaverse will bring together the digital and real worlds. It will enable a constant exchange of information, data, and decisions and empower industries to solve extraordinarily complex real-world problems digitally, changing how organizations operate and unlocking significant societal benefits.
• The digital twin is a core metaverse building block. These virtual models simulate real-world objects in detail. The next generation of digital twins will be photorealistic, physics-based, AI-enabled, and linked in metaverse ecosystems.
• The industrial metaverse will transform every industry. Currently existing digital twins illustrate the power and potential of the industrial metaverse to revolutionize design and engineering, testing, operations, and training.
The Download: China’s retro AI photos, and experts’ AI fears
Across social media, a number of creators are generating nostalgic photographs of China with the help of AI. Even though these images get some details wrong, they are realistic enough to trick and impress many of their followers.
The pictures look sophisticated in terms of definition, sharpness, saturation, and color tone. Their realism is partly down to a recent major update of image-making artificial-intelligence program Midjourney that was released in mid-March, which is better not only at generating human hands but also at simulating various photography styles.
It’s still relatively easy, even for untrained eyes, to tell that the photos are generated by an AI. But for some creators, their experiments are more about trying to recall a specific era in time than trying to trick their audience. Read the full story.
Zeyi’s story is from China Report, his weekly newsletter giving you the inside track on tech in China. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Tuesday.
Read more of our reporting on AI-generated images:
+ These new tools let you see for yourself how biased AI image models are. Bias and stereotyping are still huge problems for systems like DALL-E 2 and Stable Diffusion, despite companies’ attempts to fix it. Read the full story.