Where the wind blows, it rains: Arctic warming and wacky jetstream ruins European summers

The dramatic loss of summer sea ice in the Arctic has prompted a lot of research interest in the way that this is affecting weather patterns around the northern hemisphere. The latest contribution is Influence of Arctic sea ice on European summer precipitation, by Dr James Screen of the University of Exeter [PhysOrg]. In this “video abstract”, he explains how reductions in Arctic sea ice affect the position of jetstream — the ribbon of winds winding around the planet that guides weather systems — bringing more summer storms to Western Europe, and a recent run of record-setting wet summers to the UK. But as he points out, the effects are planet-wide:

The impacts are not just over northwest Europe. Actually in the model, what we find is that whilst the sea ice loss increases rainfall over northwest Europe, we actually find drier conditions over Mediterranean Europe. Also the jet steam shifts over North America, which can have implications for the weather there too.

Dr Screen’s study underlines a point that I have been making for some time: rapid climate change is not something theoretical that will happen in the future — it’s happening now and we’re feeling the effects. Warming in the Arctic is driving sea ice loss, and the atmospheric consequences are changing the shape of the weather right round the northern half of the planet.

Also interesting, and also looking at jetstream patterns is Probability of US heat waves affected by a subseasonal planetary wave pattern, in which the authors find that US heatwaves might be predictable 15-20 days earlier than at present by monitoring a particular jetstream wave pattern. [Science Daily]

It’s worth noting that an especially vigorous jetstream directed and helped to intensify the recent huge European storm that hammered the UK, Germany and Denmark, killing 16 people and causing huge amounts of damage. Christopher Burt at WeatherUnderground provides a handy overview of the storm that has four names — St Jude, Christian, Simone and Carmen. The storm centre moved 2,000 km in 26 hours, a remarkable pace of 77 kph.

The Climate Show #34: four Hiroshima bombs a second

It’s been almost half a year since Glenn, Gareth and John last met over the intertubes to discuss climate news — but we’re 97% sure we’re back, catching up on all the recent climate news. John discusses the recent Cook et al (where al is the Skeptical Science team) paper on the 97% consensus on climate science and the accompanying Consensus Project web site, “sticky” facts like using Hiroshima bombs as a unit of warming. Plus all the news on recent weather extremes — flooding in India, Canada, and Europe, climate impacts on the wine business, and Gareth’s recent interview with Bill McKibben. Show notes below the fold…

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I think it’s going to rain today (when it’s wet, it’s very very wet)

I took Rosie the truffle machine for a walk around the farm just before dark yesterday. We were both a bit stir-crazy after four days of cold, cold rain and a couple of days of screaming southerlies that brought snow to our hills. The ground passed field capacity at the beginning of last week, when an atmospheric river brought torrential downpours and flooding to much of the South Island. Now the soil is sodden, quivering with water and oozing mud at every footstep. Every drop of extra rain is taking that mud and sluicing it down to the river. A stream runs through my black truffle plantation. I spent this afternoon digging a drainage trench. Truffles don’t enjoy sitting in water. My crop might rot. The Waipara is roaring along at the bottom of our cliff at about 50 cumecs1, an impressive sight for a river that normally dribbles down to the sea at under a cumec. It peaked last week at about 110 cumecs. The riverbed will have been reshaped. But we got off lightly.

Over the last couple of days the New Zealand news has been dominated by extreme weather. The southerly storm that soaked us also battered Wellington and brought deep snow2 to much of the South Island. It made for compelling pictures. But what’s going on elsewhere in the world is even more dramatic:

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  1. Cubic metres per second. []
  2. The Mt Hutt ski field got 2.8 meters of snow — just over 9 feet in the old money — a record start to the season. Take a look at the green line on their snow graph to get some sense of the context. []

The wind in the trees

In search of something cheering in the face of the depressing news of continuing increases in the levels of greenhouse gas emissions I found my way to the website of Renewable Energy World Magazine and the welcome reminder that alongside the increasingly dangerous exploitation of fossil fuels the renewable energy industry is making significant progress. I’ll mention two or three recent items out of many from the website to give the flavour of that progress.

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Merkel’s rush to renewables

I’ve become wary of politicians’ commitments to clean energy, having been disappointed by the rapidity with which the rhetoric of leaders like Obama or Rudd loses substance when the political going gets tough. But it was hard not to pay attention to a striking article in Yale Environment 360 this week in which Der Spiegel journalist Christian Schwägerl wrote of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s new energy policy. In March, following the Fukushima disaster in Japan, she announced an accelerated phasing out of all 17 German nuclear reactors by 2022 at the latest.

“We want to end the use of nuclear energy and reach the age of renewable energy as fast as possible.”

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