Defining Extreme Events: A Cross-Disciplinary Review

Lauren E. McPhillips, Heejun Chang, Mikhail V. Chester, Yaella Depietri, Erin Friedman, Nancy B. Grimm, John S. Kominoski, Timon McPhearson, Pablo Méndez-Lázaro, Emma J. Rosi, Javad Shafiei Shiva

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

20 Scopus citations

Abstract

Extreme events are of interest worldwide given their potential for substantial impacts on social, ecological, and technical systems. Many climate-related extreme events are increasing in frequency and/or magnitude due to anthropogenic climate change, and there is increased potential for impacts due to the location of urbanization and the expansion of urban centers and infrastructures. Many disciplines are engaged in research and management of these events. However, a lack of coherence exists in what constitutes and defines an extreme event across these fields, which impedes our ability to holistically understand and manage these events. Here, we review 10 years of academic literature and use text analysis to elucidate how six major disciplines—climatology, earth sciences, ecology, engineering, hydrology, and social sciences—define and communicate extreme events. Our results highlight critical disciplinary differences in the language used to communicate extreme events. Additionally, we found a wide range in definitions and thresholds, with more than half of examined papers not providing an explicit definition, and disagreement over whether impacts are included in the definition. We urge distinction between extreme events and their impacts, so that we can better assess when responses to extreme events have actually enhanced resilience. Additionally, we suggest that all researchers and managers of extreme events be more explicit in their definition of such events as well as be more cognizant of how they are communicating extreme events. We believe clearer and more consistent definitions and communication can support transdisciplinary understanding and management of extreme events.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)441-455
Number of pages15
JournalEarth's Future
Volume6
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 2018

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All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)

Cite this

McPhillips, L. E., Chang, H., Chester, M. V., Depietri, Y., Friedman, E., Grimm, N. B., Kominoski, J. S., McPhearson, T., Méndez-Lázaro, P., Rosi, E. J., & Shafiei Shiva, J. (2018). Defining Extreme Events: A Cross-Disciplinary Review. Earth's Future, 6(3), 441-455. https://doi.org/10.1002/2017EF000686