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Lost jet stream, methane craters, and other strange climate news

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The Yamal methane crater in Siberia

The Yamal methane crater in Siberia

There has been a flurry of climate news this week.

No, I don’t mean the usual news about a flood here and a drought there; these, dramatic as they may be, have always been with us. Rather, I mean news that seem to indicate that the climate has shifted, that is, it’s behaving in ways that are completely new. This is noticeable in the jet stream, among others.
(Thankfully, we have the technical wherewithal to tackle the climate beast, but that’s for another post.)

Background: the (main) jet stream is a fast wind at high elevation that usually flows west to east, and it’s located between cold arctic air and warmer temperate air. Sometimes it meanders, bringing in cold air to the south (US weather folks talk about “cold air from Canada”, and vice-versa. But this year it has been meandering way more than normal.

Remember how the jet stream seemed drunk last winter, to use the apt phrase coined by Chris Mooney? It still is, apparently; while both coasts are sweltering, right now it is cold from Montreal to Oklahoma. This is the same pattern that brought cold and snow to the mid-west this last winter.

But earlier the jet stream did something even weirder: it almost completely petered out, bringing winds running directly from the Pacific to the Atlantic across the North Pole, leaving climatologists befuddled.

"Apocalyptic" skies up north

“Apocalyptic” skies up north

While I’m not personally complaining (Vancouver has been quite pleasant lately), this is bringing worrisome weather up north. Around the arctic, temperatures and forest fires have been unprecedented, both in Siberia and in the Northwest Territories. Photographers were in their heyday taking ghostly pictures of Yellowknife. The lack of arctic ice is also producing spectacularly large open water waves where only tranquil ice used to be seen – and the open water may be was is weirding out the jet stream.

Further south, everyone was counting on El Nino to bring rain, and relief, to drought-stricken California, but it seems the very warm patch of Pacific Ocean refuses to behave according to pattern. It’s much too early to positively link this to the jet stream, but it could be part of the same phenomenon – but that just speaks to how much the climate is changing, and how little we really understand it.

People who watch atmospheric methane are particulary concerned about the arctic. The thawing of the permafrost seems to be resulting

The methane dragon

The methane dragon

in large releases of the gas, in pretty spectacular fashion. The sudden craters that have developed in Siberia may be caused by large burps of methane release: as the soil thaws, the cork is popped out, so to speak, and the ground caves in letting a large bubble of methane escape (we’re talking large: tens of meters across). Observers have noticed large spikes in methane concentration around the arctic atmosphere that have been dubbed “dragon breath”. Well, when you know how strong a greenhouse gas methane is (large releases of it are now thought to have caused the Permian and the Triassic extinctions through sudden climate change), you’d be thinking of dragons, too…


Written by enviropaul

August 1, 2014 at 5:06 pm

2 Responses

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  1. […] Wow, this week has been particularly rich in good news about renewable energy developments. Good thing, too, since the news on climate are, well, not exactly rosy (that’s another post!). […]

  2. Here`s a link I forgot tominclude, for anyone interested in the very wild swings in the weather in Siberia (snow, hail, floods, 30C sunbathing weather…):


    August 2, 2014 at 9:34 am

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