Boing Boing 

A new system for studying the effects of climate change

I've talked here before about how difficult it is to attribute any individual climactic catastrophe to climate change, particularly in the short term. Patterns and trends can be said to link to a rise in global temperature, which is linked to a rise in greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. But a heatwave, or a tornado, or a flood? How can you say which would have happened without a rising global temperature, and which wouldn't?

Some German researchers are trying to make that process a little easier, using a computer model and a whole lot of probability power. They published a paper about this method recently, using their system to estimate an 80% likelihood that the 2010 Russian heatwave was the result of climate change. Wired's Brandon Keim explains how the system works:

The new method, described by Rahmstorf and Potsdam geophysicist Dim Coumou in an Oct. 25 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences study, relies on a computational approach called Monte Carlo modeling. Named for that city’s famous casinos, it’s a tool for investigating tricky, probabilistic processes involving both defined and random influences: Make a model, run it enough times, and trends emerge.

“If you roll dice only once, it doesn’t tell you anything about probabilities,” said Rahmstorf. “Roll them 100,000 times, and afterwards I can say, on average, how many times I’ll roll a six.”

Rahmstorf and Comou’s “dice” were a simulation made from a century of average July temperatures in Moscow. These provided a baseline temperature trend. Parameters for random variability came from the extent to which each individual July was warmer or cooler than usual.

After running the simulation 100,000 times, “we could see how many times we got an extreme temperature like the one in 2010,” said Rahmstorf. After that, the researchers ran a simulation that didn’t include the warming trend, then compared the results.

“For every five new records observed in the last few years, one would happen without climate change. An additional four happen with climate change,” said Rahmstorf. “There’s an 80 percent probability” that climate change produced the Russian heat wave.

Taxonomy of technological risks: when things fail badly


"A Taxonomy of Operational Cyber Security Risks" by CMU's James J. Cebula and Lisa R. Young is a year-old paper that attempts to classify all the ways that technology go wrong, and the vulnerabilities than ensue. Fascinating reading, a great primer on technology and security, and as a bonus, there's a half-dozen science fiction/technothriller plots lurking on every page.
This report presents a taxonomy of operational cyber security risks that attempts to identify and organize the sources of operational cyber security risk into four classes: (1) actions of people, (2) systems and technology failures, (3) failed internal processes, and (4) external events. Each class is broken down into subclasses, which are described by their elements. This report discusses the harmonization of the taxonomy with other risk and security activities, particularly those de- scribed by the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Special Publications, and the CERT Operationally Critical Threat, Asset, and Vulnerability Evaluation (OCTAVE) method.
A Taxonomy of Operational Cyber Security Risks (PDF)