Is the Warming Arctic Behind Our Heat Waves?
Spring is nearly upon us, and for some parts of the world, that means things will soon be heating up. Even the north remembers the heat waves, with drought-harried regions like California likely dreading what's to come. Now new research is showing that we have the Arctic, of all places, to blame for some of the hottest days of the year.
That's at least according to a study recently published in the journal Science, which details how Arctic warming is essentially putting the brakes on atmospheric circulation in mid-latitudes, leaving North America and Europe with uncharacteristically strong heat waves.
For instance, in 2003, west Europe was slammed with a wave that was associated with the deaths of nearly 70,000 people (heat stroke, wildfires, etc). In 2010, Russia was then affected by one that lasted a stunning six weeks, gravely impacting the agricultural industry and causing rampant fires. Then, the potentially hottest wave of weather the United States has ever seen struck North America in 2012, decimating corn crops during a prime growing time, according to New Scientist.
Dim Coumou and his colleagues at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany found that these events and others between 1979 and 2013 were all caused by warming in the Arctic, which reduces the difference between the region and northern parts of the United States, Europe, and Russia.
But how can a smaller difference cause heat waves? According to Coumou's team, temperature differences help facilitate the west-to-east movement of weather systems, such as storms, cool air, and even the high pressure systems that bring hot and dry air with them.