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Arctic melting may spur heat waves in Europe, United States

"The risk of high-impact heat waves is likely to increase," said study co-author Jascha Lehmann.

By Brooks Hays
Arctic melting may spur heat waves in Europe, United States
Shatter of iceberg. Photo by longtaildog/Shutterstock.

POTSDAM, Germany, March 16 (UPI) -- Researchers with the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research say melting ice caps are pacifying summer storm activity in the Western Hemisphere. It seems like a positive implication. But what sounds like a recipe for more pleasant weather is really an invitation for longer periods of stagnant weather and intense heat.

In a study published in the journal Science this week, scientists argue that polar ice melt in the Arctic is responsible for a weakened Jet Stream. Data shows that, as a result, storm and wind patterns traditionally powered by the Jet Stream have lost energy in recent years, leading to greater instances of temperature extremes and prolonged droughts.

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"Unabated climate change will probably further weaken summer circulation patterns which could thus aggravate the risk of heat waves," study co-author Jascha Lehmann, a climatologist at Potsdam University, told Bloomberg in an e-mailed statement. "The warm temperature extremes we've experienced in recent years might be just a beginning."

Climatologists have previously shown that the Arctic is heating up at a faster rate than the rest of the planet. What this means, researchers say, is that the temperature difference between the Arctic and the lower latitudes is getting smaller and smaller. And it is this temperature difference that powers atmospheric winds.

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Data collected and analyzed in the latest study show that a variety of atmospheric dynamics -- like zonal and high-altitude winds -- have weakened over the last decade.

So, what does this mean for the future?

"The reduced day-to-day variability that we observed makes weather more persistent, resulting in heat extremes on monthly timescales," Lehman said in a press release. "So the risk of high-impact heat waves is likely to increase."

With climate change accepted as fact among the vast majority of the scientific community, research is increasingly looking at not just how much the planet is heating up, but how climatic dynamics will be affected by said temperature chance.

"I think the idea that the mid-latitude winds, especially the jet stream, may be changing in response to Arctic warming has proven to be a highly fruitful one," Stefan Rahmstor, a Postdam colleague who wasn't involved in the research, told the Guardian. "Now that scientists have started to analyze the available wind data in a systematic way, very interesting patterns emerge that also make physical sense."

"It is increasingly clear that global warming does not just mean global warming in a narrow sense," Rahmstor added. "Our planet is not simply getting warmer -- rather this warming comes with real changes to the workings of the atmosphere and the oceans."

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