How to

31 March 2017

New Study Links Climate Change to Jet Stream Disruptions and Extreme Weather Events

The relationship between climate change and the rise in frequency of extreme weather events is a matter of widely-accepted fact. However, a new study highlighting the severity of this link and its implications of global climates has provided some fresh cause for concern.

Published by veteran climate researcher Michael Mann of Penn State University in the journal Scientific Reports, the study shows what Mann calls “an extra linkage” in the effect of rising temperatures on the northern jet stream. Disruptions to the northern jet stream have the knock-on effect of causing weather systems to slow down, leading to rainstorms, heat waves and droughts.

The jet stream is, in simple terms, a stream of accelerated airflow that circulates throughout the atmosphere of the Northern Hemisphere, often shown on weather reports as the driving force behind storms and other weather events. It is itself driven by differences in temperature between the Arctic and the equator, as Mann explains:

“[The jet stream] owes its existence to variations in temperature with latitude — the colder it is at the poles, and the warmer it is at the equator, the stronger the jet stream.”

Now, Mann warns, those crucial variations are becoming less pronounced, as the Arctic is warming at a faster rate than the global average.

“It turns out,” Mann continues, “our study shows that it also creates conditions where the jet stream is likely to get stuck in place for long periods of time, and it's likely to exhibit very large meanders — those north and south wiggles that you see when you look at a weather map.”

The ‘wiggles’, as Mann calls them, are responsible for extremes in local weather patterns.

Mann further states that the study has established clear links between the disruption of the northern jet stream and devastating weather events such as the 2015 California wildfires, the 2010 Russian heat wave, extreme flooding in Pakistan again during 2010, and the 2011 drought and heat wave that struck Texas.

These events will only become more common and widespread as the jet stream is further disrupted.

“When we get what we think of as extreme weather, it isn’t so much something happens one day but that you have a low-pressure system that’s just stuck in place, continuing to produce rain over the same region for days at a time,” Mann says. “Or there’s someplace else where the bend in the jet stream is causing very hot conditions, and if those conditions persist you get extreme drought.”

Sam Bonson

Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for fantasy and crime thrillers. He is currently working as a content writer, journalist & editor in an attempt to expand his horizons.