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Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Giant Energy Waves Drive Weather Extremes
This is actually an important contribution and it will now be
possible to track these waves on an ongoing basis and link
observations to the present state. It also anchors long term
predictive protocols allowing us to know what can be generally
expected weeks ahead. Even better, when it stalls, preparations can
be begun for the onset of extreme weather.
We have surely had an excellent demonstration of this phenomena over
the past several weeks. We not only had a rarity in the form of
hurricane Sandy, we have since been battered by extreme continental
It would be interesting to know if these cycles track the forty year
cycle perceived in the hurricane record. In fact, linking this all
together on a global basis as the wave phenomena is surely completely
global, has to be a research priority in terms of general hurricane
prediction. My sense is that we have these long waves in our weather
cycle and that we can successfully develop long term prediction.
The fact of long term droughts generally reinforces this idea. They
are simply not random.
Giant waves of
atmospheric energy driving extreme weather
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
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.
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
"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.
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
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.
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.
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.[ Why??
The most cursory review of the historical climate record outside our
meager lifetimes shows ample evidence of worse extreme conditions. -
arclein ] 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.
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)