EGU General Assembly 2020
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Climate attribution of environmental catastrophes

Theodore Shepherd
Theodore Shepherd
  • University of Reading, Meteorology, Berkshire, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (

The role of climate change in environmental or ecological catastrophes is generally a complex question to address, because of the importance of non-climatic factors. From a climate perspective, the latter are confounding factors, whereas from an ecological perspective, they are often the heart of the matter. How these factors are treated affects the nature of the scientific questions that can be answered. In particular, the coarse-graining required to address probabilistic questions inevitably blurs the details of any particular event, whereas these details can be retained when addressing singular questions. In this paper, based on an analysis done jointly with Lisa Lloyd, I will present several published case studies of environmental catastrophes associated with extreme weather or climate events. Whilst both the singular ‘storyline’ and probabilistic ‘risk-based’ approaches to extreme-event attribution have uses in the descriptions of such events, we find the storyline approach to be more readily aligned with the forensic approach to evidence that is prevalent in the ecological literature. Implications for the study of environmental catastrophes are discussed.

How to cite: Shepherd, T.: Climate attribution of environmental catastrophes, EGU General Assembly 2020, Online, 4–8 May 2020, EGU2020-3126,, 2020


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