Was this summer, that summer?

Written By: - Date published: 11:51 am, August 5th, 2018 - 10 comments
Categories: climate change, Environment, global warming, science - Tags: , ,

There is a heatwave hitting the northern hemisphere. It’s not so much heatwaves affecting some parts of the northern hemisphere, as it is a hemispheric heatwave. You won’t really get that from media reports from the likes of the BBC and others, that tend to be reporting (and sometimes celebrating) stuff as discrete weather events.

I’ll be more precise. While Iceland may be experiencing colder arctic air being pulled down by how the jet stream is lying, and while somewhere off in central Asia may also be having a cooler summer because the jet stream is allowing colder air to flood south, the bulk of the northern hemisphere is burning up because air from the tropics is being pulled much further north than usual by the jet stream and because (this bit’s important) the jet stream is in a holding pattern.

A pared down and simplified picture of the jet stream would look something like a sine wave that has peaks and troughs gliding in a west to east direction. Weather fronts follow in behind the peaks and troughs. Obviously, if those peaks and troughs aren’t traversing the globe as they usually do, then weather becomes “stuck” – in this case occasioning much longer periods of more intense heat than normal.

                               Image for purely illustrative purposes only and not intended as a graphic example of current conditions in the Northern Hemisphere.

We’ve added over one degree of heat to the world, mostly by our stupid burning of fossil fuels. That burning adds CO2 to the atmosphere and oceans and results in a colossal build up of energy in the form of heat. That energy isn’t dissipated across the world in a uniform manner. So, one degree of warming does not mean that heatwaves will be one degree hotter than they were last century.

The thickness of the troposphere (the lowest level of the atmosphere) depends to some degree upon temperature. It extends to about 9km above the poles and 17km at the equator – the jet stream flows at the intersection between the troposphere and the stratosphere in a region of constant temperature called the tropopause. The full set of dynamics involved in the jetstream’s movement is complex, but a simple and accurate enough picture of what has happened can be had by imagining a river flowing down a mountain side, and comparing that to what happens when it flows across a flood plain.

Like the river, the jet stream has begun to meander as the gradient or slope of the tropopause between the poles and the tropics has leveled out. That allows hotter air to get further north than before and colder air to get further south. Hot air getting north heats the arctic region and diminishes the gradient the jet stream rides across even more than before and …well, I’m sure you get the picture. The troposphere above the pole isn’t going to spontaneously thin out and bring the previous gradient back into existence. We’ve set up a situation with regards the jet stream that will now persist until the world cools.

And it seems from reports of recent years, that the more the jet stream meanders, the more apt it is to fall into a standing pattern whereby the peaks and troughs do not migrate west to east as expected, pulling weather along as they go. So hotter heat waves, persistent cold snaps, heavier rains, intensified droughts, longer wild fire seasons, more frequent coastal flooding,….

Basically, the world most of us knew in our childhood has ended. And it’s not coming back. The world the planet’s being turned into is not a world that’s going to be cutting us any favours.

Swathes of China (and elsewhere) may be uninhabitable by as early as 2070. Twenty odd metres of sea level rise is already locked in (WAIS ,Greenland and parts of East Antarctica were not ice covered the last time CO2 levels were this high) and most of that sea level rise may eventuate across a period of mere decades because of ice cliff instability and hydro fracturing. Species are dying – going extinct. And then there’s the rest of it.

I’m not going to ask you to have a think about what the hell you’re doing. I accept that people – especially the middle classes with all their investment in the way things are – are going to carry on doing what they do until they can’t do it any longer. Maybe I’d break out the popcorn, if I liked the stuff and thought it was going to be available for the duration…

10 comments on “Was this summer, that summer?”

  1. Except that it is the reverse of the graphic you show, Bill. Satellite images show the browning of England and most of Europe.

    Expect major crop failures, or significantly lower harvests in September – with resulting food shortages?

    We (the human race) are on a roller-coaster side, and who knows where and when it will end.

    [Updated the post to clarify or better reflect the intention of using that dated image] – Bill

  2. Dennis Frank 2

    Even climate scientists would be out of their depth on this. My vague memory of geophysics supplies a cellular-structured spherical lattice (derived from spherical harmonics), which would kinda create regional stasis variations if you disregard planetary spin. The drag effect of the spin gives us coriolis, complexifying regional variations. Nice picture Bill, and good explanation too, but if you add in time things get real complicated real fast.

    My reading of books by climate scientists (both alarmist & skeptik) informed me that the devil is in full control of the details: modelling. Academics competing via `my model is better than yours, and here’s why’. We’ve drifted into defeating the devil via the precautionary principle, but Naomi Klein’s simplistic rejection of psychology (“human nature”, linked on World Peace/Climate Change) is actually a disinformation campaign against her readers. I agree that capitalism is the primary culprit, but she evades the moral responsibility of those who kept voting for neoliberal parties – as if she cannot connect cause & effect.

    Climate scientists converged on consensus too slowly to be politically generative of a suitable outcome for us all. Their speed was slow due to the evidential interface being too hard. Models plus evidence left too much room for competing interpretations and dispute. Psychology & human nature therefore were primary creators of the outcome, even though capitalism was primary creator of the problem (and communism secondary creator).

    • Bill 2.1

      Please take any argument or debate about human nature versus economic pragmatism or ideology being the cause of inaction around global warming to the appropriate post or sub-thread Dennis. Cheers.

  3. Grafton Gully 3

    Some animals and plants and people in some parts of the world aren’t coping with the weather effects of middle class support for capitalism.

    Pius IX saw the error.

    “58. No other forces are to be recognized except those which reside in matter, and all the rectitude and excellence of morality ought to be placed in the accumulation and increase of riches by every possible means, and the gratification of pleasure.—Ibid.; Encyclical “Quanto conficiamur,” Aug. 10, 1863.”


  4. Exkiwiforces 4

    If you think the weather gods are crazy atm in Europe. In Northern Australia atm our build up has started two mths early as we are already seeing big black fluffy clouds appearing and the humidity is slowly climbing up. Normally we should expect to see this type of weather pattern appear at the end of September or mid way through October not at the start of August.

    This is on top of the big dry in the Southern States where the winter rains have failed again due to the high pressure systems being further Sth than usual during winter which has push the Low pressure systems further Sth towards Tassie and Southern NZ.

  5. Philj 5

    Where did the deniers go? What do you say now Sir John Key?

  6. Ed 6

    Brilliant article in the New York Times

    “Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change

    This narrative by Nathaniel Rich is a work of history, addressing the 10-year period from 1979 to 1989: the decisive decade when humankind first came to a broad understanding of the causes and dangers of climate change. Complementing the text is a series of aerial photographs and videos, all shot over the past year by George Steinmetz. With support from the Pulitzer Center, this two-part article is based on 18 months of reporting and well over a hundred interviews. It tracks the efforts of a small group of American scientists, activists and politicians to raise the alarm and stave off catastrophe. It will come as a revelation to many readers — an agonizing revelation — to understand how thoroughly they grasped the problem and how close they came to solving it. “


  7. corodale 7

    With weather issues threatening food security, I’m surprised we don’t hear more about govt plans for organic farming, and how it is more resilient to extreme weather, with better water holding capacity in soil, and so on. Growth in organic sector in Europe continues. Where is NZ’s growth in organic farming and climate mitigation action?

    You mention “middle class… investment in the way things are.”
    Yeah, do we all understand that Kiwisaver and Cullen Fund are just dangerously conservative investments in business-as-usual, privatisation by stealth. Socialism is getting ready for a revival, back to more state ownership, so the govt can back it’s finances with productive capital.

    If tough new environmental laws (restricting nitrogen fertiliser) put agricultural companies and farmers in short-term danger, the govt should have a promise of financial support for buying-in and saving jobs, using Social Credit. Hahaha, call the QE bluff, while the gnats are sleeping.

    Oh, European farmers are calling for money hand-outs, and gene-tech. Same old story there. They should be calling for more state intervention on price, to control the over-concentration of supermarket purchasing-power, which holds prices too low, preventing the short-term investment required for conversion to more sustainable agricultural methods.

  8. Philj 8

    ED, ” …how thoroughly they grasped the problem and how close they came to solving it. “
    Sounds like BS right there. Oh, if only….

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