When studying the atmosphere, the first rule I always take is to not rush into judgments and to take a step back to look at all of the fluid dynamics involved. This atmospheric scientist believes that we must completely explain the factors going into an atmospheric event and stay away from over the top claims.
So this month I wanted to tackle the weather pattern we have been seeing this Summer which has featured heatwaves in Europe and the Eastern United States along with well below normal temperatures and record low temperatures in parts of Europe and the northern United States. We’ve observed major flooding in the Plains and along the East coast via slow-moving cold fronts and training thunderstorms. Now, the latest focus is the melting going on in Greenland and the Arctic with very warm air invading from the mid-latitudes. So is this the result of climate change? Well, yes and no. As always with the atmosphere, the answers are far more complicated than A and B.
HIGH LATITUDE BLOCKING REGIME
This warm season, which we can include Spring as well, the North Atlantic Oscillation has been predominantly negative and so has the Arctic Oscillation. These negative states in the atmosphere signal above normal 500 MB heights over the Arctic and Greenland while below-normal heights are found over eastern North America and the northern Atlantic.
To gain an understanding of how the current negative NAO pattern is influencing the melting in Greenland, please read this article by Maddie Stone, where she details in excellent fashion the ice melt in the Arctic and on Greenland via the combination of the negative NAO pattern and the overall warmer climate we are currently in. However, there is more to this story because we need to understand WHY we are seeing this weather pattern and how our influences impact the pattern we are seeing.
THAT GIANT FIREBALL IN THE SKY DOES MATTER!
As I have been detailing for years in the PREMIUM CONSULTING section, the sun does have an influence on high latitude blocking regimes, jet stream dynamics, and even the development of cloud cover over the Tropics. Before I get ahead of myself, let me explain the current low solar output state is doing and what it is not doing.
First, and foremost, while we are clearly in a Solar Minimum, much like what we saw from 2008 to 2010, there is no indication at this time to call this minimum a Grand Solar Minimum at the time of this writing. So before you start reading up about coming ice ages and the sun, stop and slow down. We are nowhere near that point and the current atmospheric data on the state of our current average global temperatures (estimated) certainly has no cooling trend overall. The Earth IS warming.
However, the influences of the current solar state are influencing our climate right now and all we have to do is look at the higher layers of that atmosphere. So first, please make yourself familiar with the layers of our atmosphere.
THE IMPORTANCE OF THERMAL STATES ON OUR WEATHER
Before we go forward, let’s talk about the importance of thermal states of cooling and warming of the atmosphere of our weather. Often we hear in the winter about major stratospheric warming events and how that event could lead to major arctic cold outbreaks and winter storms or the invasion of the very much misunderstood and overhyped Polar Vortex. So why is this process important? Physics and chemistry!!
First, understand the Earth’s atmosphere can not expand out into space. When a layer warms, that layer presses down on other layers of the atmosphere and when the layer contracts, other layers in the atmosphere expand to achieve a balance. The process is a bit more complicated, but I just want to give you a basic overview.
So how does this wrap into the Sun’s current state? Well, when the sun is not as active and you see coronal holes developing throughout the sun, this process produces an increase in solar particles slamming into the Earth’s atmosphere at the Thermosphere and Mesosphere, which rapidly cools the Mesosphere and upper stratosphere. The reduction of ultraviolet rays from the solar minimum due to a lack of sunspots also increases ozone build up in the Ozone layer and the stratosphere as a whole. The combination of these two processes allows the stratosphere to expand and warm. The expanding stratosphere presses down on the troposphere, which produces an environment where more below normal 500 MB heights can develop.
So just so we are clear, in a Solar Minimum, the Mesosphere cools, the Stratosphere warms, and the Troposphere responds with enhanced 500 MB heights which produce high latitude blocking. Premium Consulting subscribers were prepared for this evolution with a forecast detailing the concern for upper-level lows being a major influence on the 500 MB pattern and that the negative NAO pattern was going to be a real pest for forecast confidence in the weather pattern from week to week and month to month.
Let me be clear, the solar cycle’s influence on the Mesosphere and Stratosphere is not and does not influence the thermal state of the Troposphere, but does influence the evolution of 500 MB heights and frequency/intensity of high latitude blocking. The case for the solar state influencing global temperatures does not come into the discussion until we get to a Grand Solar Minimum, which we are nowhere near in reaching and even then other factors like Sulfur Dioxide from volcanic activity appears to have a stronger influence. We would need decades, not years, of a build-up of Solar Particles to increase cloud cover in the Tropics and Mid Latitudes to influence global temperatures. However, we can clearly see that the strong negative NAO regime did cause the two heatwaves in Europe and the heavy rain events in the Plains and East coast.
SOLAR CONNECTION AND 500 MB PATTERN
So now that you understand how the sun influences the 500 MB pattern and the pattern we are seeing now, let’s take a look at some observations.
Here we can see the trends of the NAO state going back to the 1980’s. You can look at more data from the CPC, here. Note that while the NAO does go in and out of phases, that we can see an enhanced period of positive and negative NAO regimes. In the late 1980’s to the mid-1990’s for example, there were several periods of highly positive NAO regimes. We also found that the Sun was also extremely active in this same time period. Now, as the sun has become quieter, we can see an increase in the periods of sustained high latitude blocking, in this case, the negative NAO regime.
Now, note the trends of solar activity with the trends we are seeing with high latitude blocking. Of course, as I always warn, you have to connect the physical influence when you see matching patterns, otherwise, this would just be a coincidence.
Well, we know that low solar activity influences the Stratospheric and Tropospheric environments, specifically the Polar Vortex. See one of many peer-reviewed studies here. We also know a weaker Polar Vortex supports above normal heights over the Arctic and Greenland and below-normal heights or deep troughs at the mid-latitudes. So let’s tie all of this together.
Below we can see the difference in the Stratospheric temperatures on average during 1994-95 versus now, you can also dive into a ton of data from the CPC here.
The state of the declining solar output is having a direct impact on the stratosphere, which influences the Troposphere via the 500 MB state, which we can observe via a warmer stratosphere over the decades and a weaker Polar Vortex on average. This process has produced a marked increase in the development and duration of negative Arctic Oscillation and negative North Atlantic Oscillations, which reach an apex at the solar minimums. So we can clearly see the physical process at work here and why we are seeing the weather patterns we are observing.
WHERE AGW THEORY FAILS AND IS CORRECT
AGW Theory specifically states the increase in CO2, which warms the planet as a whole due to the Green House Effect should lead to a weakening of the Polar jet stream as the thermal gradients throughout the Earth are reduced. However, that is not what we are seeing here.
We know that this Summer we have recorded the strongest observed jet streak over the northeastern Pacific on July 18, 2019. We also have observed enhanced jet stream dynamics in the Polar and Subtropical jet streams throughout the Summer in Asia, Europe, North America, and throughout the oceans, which runs counter to the AGW theory and climate models. This aspect is clearly a failure in the theory.
Another noted AGW theory failure is the handing of the stratospheric state which clearly notes the stratosphere would feature well below normal stratospheric temperatures and thus enhanced 500 MB heights which in turn supports well above normal surface temperatures. This is how you end up with forecasts of temperatures 2° to 5° above normal in the global average by 2050. However, that is not reality.
As you can see, the stratospheric temperatures even at the mid-latitudes are about normal in the Summer with typical fluctuations in the cold season months. You can see the same trends for the southern hemisphere as well.
As such, as you can see, we are no where near the doomsday forecasts of decades past like in the late 1980’s when temperatures were supposed to be well over 1°C by now and New York City would be underwater, a forecast that has failed to actually happen over 4 times now and continues to be paraded around every year around Earth Day.
AGW Theory does help explain the overall warmth of the Earth itself and the increased coverage of heatwaves. Note, that our hottest heatwave in the 1930’s was found globally to be an extreme event in a sea of much cooler atmospheric climate. In short, our climate is warmer overall compared to the 1930’s, which means the mean temperature is warmer and the extreme temperature events can start at a warmer base. We can also attribute the warmer low temperatures to a combination of increased water vapor content in the atmosphere and the influences of the Urban Heat Island Impact (UHI).
AGW theory also would help to support the enhancement of high latitude blocking via a feedback factor due to a decrease in Arctic sea ice. In short, the high latitude events would last longer in this environment and would be more difficult to break down.
WHY UNDERSTANDING DRIVERS AND ENHANCERS IS IMPORTANT
In order to address our influences on the climate, we need to understand our role. We are NOT causing these heatwave patterns nor the melt we are observing in Greenland and the Arctic sea ice. We are enhancing the process. It is important to understand this fact to better address climate influences and our energy needs.
The high latitude blocking we are seeing is directly connected to the state of the Sun and how the 500 MB pattern is evolving. These heatwaves and the melt we are seeing in Greenland would have happened regardless of our CO2 output. What our CO2 output is influencing at an increase from 0.38% of the atmosphere to now 0.415% is the expansion of above-normal temperatures in the atmosphere overall. In short, we are enhancing the natural processes of our climate, not causing them.
This fact is important because we need to understand that no matter what we do, major storms will happen, heat waves will happen, and yes, the sea level will continue to rise at 3.1 mm/year or 0.12″/ year. However, the use of fossil fuels has aided to enhance the overall climate. One good example is the increase in Precipitable Water Values in the mid-latitudes which in turn enhances precipitation rates in storms and increases the humidity factor in heatwaves, please see previous climate article for details on New York City heatwave influences.
We also must acknowledge the serious flaws in the climate models we use and the significant errors on how these models handle the various chaotic interactions between solar influences along with atmospheric/ocean interactions which influences the development of air masses, cloud formation, and jet stream dynamics. Let’s be frank, the climate models should not be taken as infallible data to be used to base economic/governmental policy on our future. They are as reliable in this atmospheric scientist’s opinion as to the 300+ hour GFS or the CFS model.
When you understand these facts, we can take responsible and reasonable approaches to address our energy requirements and how best to move away from Carbon-based energy sources while ignoring the scare tactics of some that use every weather event to make you feel guilty about using modern technology.