Showing posts with label arctic. Show all posts
Showing posts with label arctic. Show all posts

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The clothes dryer effect

Just as a clothes dryer uses warm air to evaporate more easily, so our warming planet is drawing more moisture into the atmosphere. This moisure is leading to more extreme weather.

A report released in March 2012 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change confirmed that a strong body of evidence links global warming to an increase in heat waves, a rise in episodes of heavy rainfall and other precipitation, and more frequent coastal flooding. 

We're lurching from one weather extreme to another. The United States saw a February freeze followed by record breaking warm Spring weather where farmers are planting six weeks early.  Across Europe, people died by the hundreds during a severe cold wave in the first half of February, but a week later revelers in Paris were strolling down the Champs-Élysées in their shirt-sleeves. Australia has gone from a 10 year drought to record breaking floods.

Scientists say that the loss of Arctic ice is part of the story.
The question really is not whether the loss of the sea ice can be affecting the atmospheric circulation on a large scale, the question is, how can it not be, and what are the mechanisms?
Jennifer A. Francis, a Rutgers University climate researcher

Thomas C. Peterson, a researcher with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, used the clothes dryer analogy in this NYT article.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Open the fridge door

How does a warming Arctic cause winter cold in Europe and Northern America? Or, in other words, if the globe is warming, why the cold freeze?

It's because the Arctic refrigerator door has been opened and the cold air spilled out at the bottom, according to John Cook of Skeptical Science.

The refrigerator door is the jet stream that marks the differences in atmospheric pressure in higher latitudes (20N) compared with mid-latitudes (37-45N). This difference in pressure is measured by the Arctic oscillation (AO)  index or Northern Annular Mode/Northern Hemisphere Annular Mode (NAM).

NASA climatologist Dr. James E. Hansen explains the mechanism by which the AO affects weather at points far from the Arctic:
The degree to which Arctic air penetrates into middle latitudes is related to the AO index, which is defined by surface atmospheric pressure patterns. When the AO index is positive, surface pressure is low in the polar region. This helps the middle latitude jet stream to blow strongly and consistently from west to east, thus keeping cold Arctic air locked in the polar region. When the AO index is negative, there tends to be high pressure in the polar region, weaker zonal winds, and greater movement of frigid polar air into middle latitudes.
So warmer temperatures in the Arctic mess with the air pressure and this tends to make the refrigerator door swing open. Sometimes it just chinks open a little bit, other times it's like a teenager came to raid the fridge. That's when Europe really freezes!