Killer Heat Waves and Floods Linked to Climate Change

Projected drought and dry regions in 2060-2069
Projected drought and dry regions in 2060-2069

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Feb 27 2013 (IPS) 

Killer heat waves, floods and storms are increasingly caused by climate change, new research reveals.

Scientists in Germany say they have found how greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels are helping to trap the jet stream, resulting in extraordinary weather such as the 2010 Pakistan flood and the 2011 heat wave in the United States.

Human-driven climate change repeatedly disturbs the flow of atmospheric waves around the globe’s Northern hemisphere, said lead author Vladimir Petoukhov of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) in Germany.

Giant atmospheric waves called Rossby waves are meanders in the strong, high-altitude winds known as jet streams and have a major influence on weather. These wave movements are caused by the difference in temperatures between the cold air from the Arctic and hot air from the tropics. 

When the waves shift north, they suck warm air from the tropics to Europe, Russia, or the U.S., and when they swing down, they do the same thing with cold air from the Arctic, said Petoukhov.

“During several recent extreme weather events, these planetary waves almost freeze in their tracks for weeks,” he said. “So instead of bringing in cool air after having brought warm air in before, the heat just stays.”

80 percent of Arctic Ice Lost Compared to 30 Years Ago

arctic-sea-ice-min-volume-comparison-1979-2012-small

[This is my first exclusive blog post – virtually everything else on this site are my published articles. Not sure if I’ll have time to do more. Let me know what you think – Stephen ]

A new study released Feb 13 revealed that the volume of Arctic sea ice is declining rapidly. Ice volume in September 2012 had fallen 80 percent compared with the volume of ice in September 1980 according to the latest data from European Space Agency satellite, CryoSat-2. As the Arctic heats up Most of the ice loss has been in recent years. Between 2003 and 2012 the volume declined a whopping 36 percent. Summers with a sea ice-free Arctic are only a few years away, scientists now agree. This will have significant and permanent impacts on weather patterns in the Northern Hemisphere.

My previous article  Ice-Free Arctic Is “Uncharted Territory” documented last September’s one year record area decline of 18 percent. Here’s what this means:

The impacts are already being felt across the entire northern hemisphere. The loss of sea ice in recent years has been affecting weather patterns, recent research has shown. The all-important jet stream – the west-to-east winds that are the boundary between the cold Arctic and the warm mid-latitudes – is slowing down, moving north and become more erratic.

When continent-sized areas of the Arctic Ocean flip from the all-white ice to dark blue, tremendous amounts of heat are absorbed from the 24-hour summer sun. When the bitter cold Arctic winter sets in over the next few weeks, all the heat in the ocean must be released into the atmosphere before ice can form again.

The Arctic will be ice-covered in winter for decades to come but what’s fundamentally changed is that every fall, unprecedented amounts of heat and water vapour will be released into the atmosphere.

“The polar meltdown shows we’re teetering on the brink of climate change catastrophe,” said Shaye Wolf, climate science director at the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute.

As the sea ice declines, Arctic temperatures increase, thawing more and more permafrost, which will release more climate-heating carbon and methane. Permafrost is frozen soil, sediment and rock spanning 13 million square kilometres of the land in Alaska, Canada, Siberia and parts of Europe. It has twice the carbon that the atmosphere currently holds.

A Swedish study released Feb 17 has found a link between sea ice declines and increases in methane emissions. Methane has 40x the warming of carbon. This is may lead to an even faster meltdown of the Arctic risking the release of huge amounts of permafrost carbon and methane.