Weather extremes & Giant Atmospheric Waves

australia_atmospheric_gravity_waves_in_indian_ocean_sunglint_makes_them_visible_nov11_2003_modis_wallPress release by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research 

02/26/2013

Weather extremes provoked by trapping of giant waves in the atmosphere

The world has suffered from severe regional weather extremes in recent years, such as the heat wave in the United States in 2011 or the one in Russia 2010 coinciding with the unprecedented Pakistan flood. Behind these devastating individual events there is a common physical cause, propose scientists of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). The study will be published this week in the US Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and suggests that man-made climate change repeatedly disturbs the patterns of atmospheric flow around the globe’s Northern hemisphere through a subtle resonance mechanism.

“An important part of the global air motion in the mid-latitudes of the Earth normally takes the form of waves wandering around the planet, oscillating between the tropical and the Arctic regions. So when they swing up, these waves suck warm air from the tropics to Europe, Russia, or the US, and when they swing down, they do the same thing with cold air from the Arctic,” explains lead author Vladimir Petoukhov.

“What we found is that during several recent extreme weather events these planetary waves almost freeze in their tracks for weeks. So instead of bringing in cool air after having brought warm air in before, the heat just stays. In fact, we observe a strong amplification of the usually weak, slowly moving component of these waves,” says Petoukhov. Time is critical here: two or three days of 30 degrees Celsius are no problem, but twenty or more days lead to extreme heat stress. Since many ecosystems and cities are not adapted to this, prolonged hot periods can result in a high death toll, forest fires, and dramatic harvest losses.

Anomalous surface temperatures are disturbing the air flows

Climate change caused by greenhouse-gas emissions from fossil-fuel burning does not mean uniform global warming – in the Arctic, the relative increase of temperatures, amplified by the loss of snow and ice, is higher than on average. This in turn reduces the temperature difference between the Arctic and, for example, Europe, yet temperature differences are a main driver of air flow. Additionally, continents generally warm and cool more readily than the oceans. “These two factors are crucial for the mechanism we detected,” says Petoukhov. “They result in an unnatural pattern of the mid-latitude air flow, so that for extended periods the slow synoptic waves get trapped.”

The authors of the study developed equations that describe the wave motions in the extra-tropical atmosphere and show under what conditions those waves can grind to a halt and get amplified. They tested their assumptions using standard daily weather data from the US National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP). During recent periods in which several major weather extremes occurred, the trapping and strong amplification of particular waves – like “wave seven” (which has seven troughs and crests spanning the globe) – was indeed observed. The data show an increase in the occurrence of these specific atmospheric patterns, which is statistically significant at the 90 percent confidence level.

The probability of extremes increases – but other factors come in as well

“Our dynamical analysis helps to explain the increasing number of novel weather extremes. It complements previous research that already linked such phenomena to climate change, but did not yet identify a mechanism behind it,” says Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director of PIK and co-author of the study. “This is quite a breakthrough, even though things are not at all simple – the suggested physical process increases the probability of weather extremes, but additional factors certainly play a role as well, including natural variability.” Also, the 32-year period studied in the project provides a good indication of the mechanism involved, yet is too short for definite conclusions.

Nevertheless, the study significantly advances the understanding of the relation between weather extremes and man-made climate change. Scientists were surprised by how far outside past experience some of the recent extremes have been. The new data show that the emergence of extraordinary weather is not just a linear response to the mean warming trend, and the proposed mechanism could explain that.

Article: Petoukhov, V., Rahmstorf, S., Petri, S., Schellnhuber, H. J. (2013): Quasi-resonant amplification of planetary waves and recent Northern Hemisphere weather extremes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Early Edition) [doi:10.1073/pnas.1222000110]

Weblink to the article (once it is published): www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1222000110

For further information please contact:

PIK press office

Phone: +49 331 288 25 07

E-Mail: press@pik-potsdam.de

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2 opinions on “Weather extremes & Giant Atmospheric Waves”

  1. “It being a most glorious and warm day, even to amazement, for this time of the year.”

    There you have it; Climate Change existed centuries ago in Olde London Towne. At least it did on January 29, 1661 when Samuel Pepys wrote the above quote in what later would become one of his famous diaries. Mind you, a warm day on January 29th must have looked pretty good back then. You see, the period from the mid-14th century to the 19th century in Europe is known as the Little Ice Age because of the severity of the climate, especially the winters. Potsdam writes this all off as “greenhouse gases” and “strong volcanic eruptions.” In other words, it simply does not fit their model of the day.

    I wish I had invented “Extreme Weather.” It’s brilliant! ‘Climate Change’ and ‘Global Warming’ have fallen victim to bureaucracy, politics and just plain fraud. There are simply too many facts either way. There is also Gore and our own Dr. of fruit flies, Suzuki. Who can take either of them seriously as they line their pockets? Alarmism, preaching and scolding is profitable. Who knew? Something new was needed. Why didn’t I think of it? Too Hot? It’s Extreme! Too Cold? It’s Extreme! Rain, wind, storms, hurricanes, whatever, they’re all Extreme! I tell you, it’s brilliant!!! No matter what happens outside in the great outdoors, it’s EXTREME WEATHER! It figures that Potsdam would come up with yet another model, another theory. It’s their job. If they just keep predicting and alarming, the money rolls in. Brilliant. Why didn’t I think of that?

    Sorry kids but “Extreme Weather” is not new either. Some 22 years after Pepys penned his pithy entry, the Great Frost of 1683–84 became known as the worst frost recorded in England. Don’t you just love how they use the word “frost?” We would say, “frozen stiff.” It was even worse than the record breaking conditions of last winter that occurred all over Europe. The Great Frost caused the Thames to be completely frozen for two months, with the ice reaching a thickness of 11 inches (28 cm) in the London area. Solid ice was reported to extend for miles off the coasts of the southern North Sea (England, France and the Low Countries). Severe (extreme) problems for shipping prevented the use of most harbours.

    One of the earliest accounts of the Thames freezing comes from AD 250, when it was frozen solid for nine weeks. As long ago as 923 the river was open to wheeled traffic for trade and the transport of goods for 13 weeks; in 1410, it lasted for 14 weeks.

    The British winter was more severe (extreme) back then than it is now. The colder climate was not the only factor that allowed the river to freeze over in the city. Like the Seine and the Hudson, to name 2 other famous rivers, the Thames was also wider, slower and shallower in the Middle Ages. It had not yet been embanked. As we all know, the narrowing of these rivers has sped them up some causing in some places, particularly the New York area, additional damage from flooding and storms. But keep rebuilding where there shouldn’t be buildings to begin with. It gets more expensive each time. That’s the spirit!

    The alleged ‘consensus’ on man-made global warming is today confronted by the release of new temperature data which shows the planet has not warmed for the past 15 years. NASA’s James Hansen says temperatures have been “flat for the past decade.” The U.K.’s Meteorological Office claims the standstill has lasted 15 years and may extend to 20. Previously, both could rival Gore and Suzuki in their stridency. Neither comes any where close in their ability to raise money for personal gain, however.

    Could we be heading for a Mini Ice Age? Could it rival the 70-year temperature drop that saw ‘frost fairs’ held on the Thames during 17th Century? The Met Office and the University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit have issued data based readings from more than 30,000 measuring stations. It confirms that the rising trend in world temperatures ended in 1997.

    The sun is now heading towards a ‘grand minimum’ in its output after emitting unusually high levels of energy throughout the 20th Century. This is an omen of cold summers and bitter winters to come. Solar output goes through 11-year cycles. High numbers of sunspots are seen at the peak of these cycles. We should be at or near the peak of what scientists call ‘Cycle 24.’ Sunspot numbers, however, are running at less than half those seen during previous cycle peaks throughout the 20th Century. Analysis by experts at NASA and the University of Arizona (derived from magnetic-field measurements taken miles beneath the sun’s surface) suggest that the peak of Cycle 25, due in 2022, will be a great deal weaker still. If this weakening trend continues, average temperatures in parts of Europe could fall by as much as 2C. A further solar energy slump would result in another Little Ice Age. It has happened before. Perhaps Potsdam could model that for us.

    ‘World temperatures may end up a lot cooler than now for 50 years or more,’ said Henrik Svensmark, director of the Center for Sun-Climate Research at Denmark’s National Space Institute. ‘It will take a long battle to convince some climate scientists that the sun is important. It may well be that the sun is going to demonstrate this on its own, without the need for their help.”

    Me, I’ve always believed in the sun. Personal experience with temperatures and choice of clothing, long ago indicated to me that the sun had more of an impact on us than mere tanning or farming. Hey, it’s damn cold without it! Besides, those that ignore the sun are relying on the same old computer models that the current plateau in global-warming has skewered.

    Of course, like most in the Climate Game, the Met has been wrong before. In 2007, the Met Office claimed that global warming was about to “come roaring back”. It said that between 2004 and 2014 there would be an overall increase of 0.3C. In 2009, it predicted that at least three of the years 2009 to 2014 would break the previous temperature record set in 1998. Oops!

    Dr Nicola Scafetta, Duke University in North Carolina, has been a critic of previous Met models.

    “If temperatures continue to stay flat or start to cool again, the divergence between the models and recorded data will eventually become so great that the whole scientific community will question the current theories,” he said.

    The Met Office model attaches much greater significance to CO2 than to the sun. It is committed to conclude there would not be cooling due to sun spot activity. “The real issue is whether the model itself is accurate,” Dr Scafetta said. “Aren’t the models always the problem? Every time they are proven wrong they just input new data and carry on. Seriously, who else would keep rebuilding on a broken foundation?” Potsdam comes to mind. Meteorologist Dr. Wolfgang Thüne calls Potsdam Institute’s Science, “Pure Voodoo Magic for spreading fear among the Public.” Gee, and he’s not alone. Academic criticism of their conclusions abound. I have never been comfortable with just one side. Even in politics, I read what the “other side” has to say. How would I know otherwise? TV?

    Back to the Met. One of America’s most eminent climate experts, Professor Judith Curry (Georgia Institute of Technology) could not understand the Met’s confidence in their CO2 theory versus the sun. “The responsible thing to do would be to accept the fact that the models may have severe shortcomings when it comes to the influence of the sun,” she said. She further added that many scientists “are not surprised” by data supporting the influence of the sun on the earth’s climate. Me either!

    In England, when the ice was thick enough and lasted long enough, Londoners would take to the river for travel, trade and entertainment, the latter eventually taking the form of public festivals and fairs. We still do that here. One of the best known is Winterlude held each February on the Canal in Ottawa, the Nation’s capitol.

    Global temperatures increased from the late 1970s to the late 1990s but have either stopped warming or have begun to cool in the last fifteen years. This warming and subsequent cooling is predictable due to hundreds of years of historical trends and observation of the impact of variations in solar activity on global temperature.

    The Roman and Medieval Periods, for example, were both several degrees warmer than today’s temperatures. The world then cooled from approximately 1450 to 1850 (Little Ice Age). This period featured glacial advances by the very same glaciers that have been in retreat until recently. That’s what glaciers do; they advance and they retreat. How extreme! Other than by breathing, man did not cause all these temperature variations. We helped, of course. Our power plants, factories and autos do their share but all are in varying stages of cleansing or at life cycle ends. The bulk of these temperature variations were caused entirely by the same natural forces that still impact our climate and, for as long as we last, always will. Don’t panic, nothing lasts forever and the ‘end of the world scenario’ is still some 2,000,000 years away. We’ve got time. Don’t pack yet.

    From 1400 into the 19th century, there were 24 winters in which the Thames was recorded to have frozen over at London. If “more or less frozen over” years are included, the number is 26 between 1408 and 1814. The last great freeze of the Thames upstream from London was in 1963.

    The Seine, also narrowed and embanked, was entirely frozen over in 1742, 1744, 1766, 1767, 1776, 1788, 1956 and, in some parts, in 2012.

    The surface of the Hudson River, in the vicinity of Manhattan, has frozen over 3 times in written history, 1720, 1780 and 1821. It is unlikely the Hudson would ever freeze completely as it is salty near its mouth and over forty-five feet deep. It too has been narrowed by some 700 feet to allow for more building and now flows much faster making freezing more difficult. Of course, as we have seen, it is more liable to flood and fast track high tides up its narrow embankments during hurricanes and storms which batter the eastern seaboard yearly.

    So, historically speaking, we could very well be in a prolonged period of general warming that always occurs between Ice ages. Remember the 70s when it was widely reported that we were entering into another Ice Age? The New York Times (May 21, 1975) stated that “a major cooling of the climate” was “widely considered inevitable.” Science magazine (Dec. 10, 1976) added that “extensive Northern Hemisphere glaciation” would follow. International Wildlife, (July 1975) noted that this extreme “cooling” would “stand alongside nuclear war as a likely source of wholesale death and misery.” Wow! Science Digest (February 1973) intoned that “the world’s climatologists are agreed” and we must “prepare for the next ice age.” The Christian Science Monitor (Aug. 27, 1974) blared that armadillos were leaving Nebraska and heading south! Heat-loving snails were also allegedly fleeing European forests for warmer, southern climes. Newsweek (April 28, 1975) solemnly declared meteorologists were “almost unanimous” that cooling would “reduce agricultural productivity.” Ah, the 70s, weren’t they great? Where’s the Potsdam model for that?

    Of course, since the 70s, a wide variety of alarmists and shriekers have discovered the profitability inherent in scaring the bejeezers out of folks with no memory for history. World wide successions of liberal (Liberal in Canada) governments have used these false crises to grow nearly exponentially; governments thrive on crises. Here, a previous Liberal government signed us up for Kyoto knowing full well it would never achieve or attempt to attain its lofty and economically crippling standards. It was left to the next government to wisely withdraw. Contrary to myth, Canada wasn’t alone in opting out. Japan, Russia, and New Zealand have since joined Canada, with Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan to follow. While 191 countries ratified Kyoto, 154 nations, including China, the world’s largest emitter (21% of global emissions), and the rest of the developing world, were exempt from having to reduce emissions under it.

    The U.S., the world’s second-largest emitter, (19% of global emissions), never ratified Kyoto. China and India, considered “developing countries,” were given a special exemption. As a result, the UN’s “global” emissions treaty covered only 15% of global emissions, which have gone up more than 50% under Kyoto, when they were supposed to have fallen by 5%. Man made global warming, in so far that it exists, could best be traced to treaties like Kyoto which seemingly stimulate rather than decrease it.

    Man simply has no control over Climate Change. As I’ve said many times, it’s arrogant to shake your fist at the heavens. Mother Nature doesn’t like it. A simple look into the past clearly shows how fool hardy it is. Governments and NGOs should concentrate their efforts on those areas where they might have some influence such as disease, hunger, education, pollution and research and development in the sciences and technology. That would be useful.

    I realize that a high percentage of scientists, columnists and pseudo-scientists believe global warming is due to the increasing level of atmospheric CO2. Mind you, 500 years ago, 100% of all scientists, philosophers and priests believed the earth was flat and the sun revolved around it. Nicolaus Copernicus published his theory of the earth’s revolution around the sun. He was scorned and called a heretic. Life’s funny that way. I read recently that the polar ice on Mars is melting. How many cars and coal-fired power plants do they have there?

    Geologists claim there have been 5 major ice ages. 1,700 to 2,300 mya (million years ago) in the middle of the Huronian Era in Precambrian time, 670 mya at the end of the Proterozoic Era, in Precambrian time, 420 mya, in the middle of the Paleozoic Era, between the Ordovician and Silurian Periods, 290 mya in the late Carboniferous and early Permian Periods, late in the Paleozoic Era and 1.7 mya in the Pleistocene Epoch of the Quaternary Period (Cenozoic Era). The boundary of the ice sheet is hypothesized to spread and contract in cycles during ice ages. These cycles are called glacials and interglacials and are said to last about 100,000 years. That’s a long time too!

    Mother Nature is a fickle old girl. The temperatures she doles out to earth are far from constant. There were 23 periods of cooling and warming in the past 500 years alone with the average cycle being 27 years long. There were two cooling and warming periods in the past 100 years. 1880-1915 was a period of cooling followed by a period of warming, 1915-1945. 1945-1977 was a period of cooling. 1977-1998 was a period of warming. Related to changes in solar activity and the Pacific El Nino and La Nina cycles, it has been cooling from 1998 to the present.

    After the Medieval Period the world cooled 4 degrees centigrade, causing the “Little Ice Age” after which the world began to warm once again. Many of the glaciers that are now retreating were ones that grew during this “Little Ice Age”.

    The fastest global temperature change ever recorded was from 1696 to 1732. Temperatures declined 2.2 degrees centigrade, 4 times the rate of temperature change and three times the speed of the .6 degree change in temperature of the entire 20th Century.

    You want drought, how about ‘The Dust Bowl’ or ‘The Dirty Thirties’? In the 1930s and again in the 1950s drought covered more of the U.S. (National Climatic Data Center, Asheville, North Carolina) than what has been recently experienced. The Dust Bowl lasted from 1930 to 1936 . In some areas it continued until 1940. Entire towns were covered. You didn’t sweep it; you shoveled it!

    Droughts are unfortunately cyclical and have ravaged the northern Great Plains of the U.S., the Prairie Provinces of Western Canada and Australia for thousands of years. Scientists expect these devastating events to continue.

    “These drought cycles have gone on pretty consistently throughout the last 4,500 years,” said Jim Clark (ecologist at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences, Durham, North Carolina). “They are pretty severe, so they have a large impact on the full set of ecosystem processes.”

    You want extreme? The Dust Bowl, or the Dirty Thirties, was also a period of severe dust storms. The soil dried, turned to dust and blew away. Clouds of dust darkened the sky sometimes reaching as far as New York City and Washington, D.C. These massive dust storms (“black blizzards”, “black rollers”) reduced visibility to a few feet (a meter) or less. 100,000,000 acres of land was affected in Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas and more in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, the Canadian Prairie Provinces. Hundreds of thousands of people were forced to leave their homes. Now that’s extreme!

    You’re probably wondering why I talk so much about the weather. Truth be told, although I tend to talk too much as a general rule, most Canadians love to talk about the weather. In fact, no one does it as much as we do. Perhaps it’s because we live in a large, geographically diverse country. Our weather patterns vary widely from province to province, season to season, even day to day.

    “Our temperatures vary from 40C to –50C so when you get that, there is never a dull moment,” David Phillips (senior climatologist at Environment Canada) says. As Phillips says, “you don’t talk about the weather in a country when tomorrow is like yesterday.”

    We also experience temperatures differently than do our American neighbours. Below is ‘The Official Canadian Temperature Conversion Chart.’

    50° Fahrenheit (10° C)
    • Californians shiver uncontrollably.
    • Canadians plant gardens.

    35° Fahrenheit (1.6° C)
    • Italian Cars won’t start.
    • Canadians drive with the windows down.

    32° Fahrenheit (0° C)
    • American water freezes.
    • Canadian water gets thicker.

    0° Fahrenheit (-17.9° C)
    • New York City landlords finally turn on the
    heat.
    • Canadians have the last cookout of the season.

    -60° Fahrenheit (-51° C)
    • Santa Claus abandons the North Pole.
    • Canadian Girl Guides sell cookies door-to-door.

    -109.9° Fahrenheit (-78.5° C)
    • Carbon dioxide freezes makes dry ice.
    • Canadians pull down their earflaps.

    -173° Fahrenheit (-114° C)
    • Ethyl alcohol freezes.
    • Canadians get frustrated when they can’t thaw the keg.

    -459.67° Fahrenheit (-273.15° C)
    • Absolute zero; all atomic motion stops.
    • Canadians start saying “cold, eh?”

    -500° Fahrenheit (-295° C)
    • Hell freezes over.
    • The Toronto Maple Leafs win the Stanley Cup

    Call me when the Hudson freezes over again. We’ll play hockey. I’m a Canuck, eh?

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