Friday, February 4, 2011
I am sure that you have heard the superlatives from the recent storm that covered the United States. It was the largest storm, in terms of the area of the country that it covered, that we have ever seen. Florida is the only state that does not have snow cover. Australia, in the mean time, is suffering under summertime floods and cyclones, unprecedented in their size. I have heard theories related to various climate forcing elements - the polar vortex and changes in the jet stream, changes to ice cover over the Great Lakes and the Arctic Ocean. Weather extremes are here to stay, but what they say about our future is still unclear.
Here are a number of interesting articles related to extreme weather. This article in the New York Times suggests that warming of the Arctic Ocean has weakened the polar vortex, or jet stream, that keeps the cold air to the north.
This blog entry from the National Wildlife Federation suggests a link to heavier snow with less ice on the Great Lakes and hence more moisture in the atmosphere.
If you want to read more about the effects of extreme weather, changes in sea ice and and the research behind these theories, read this NY Times blog entry and this page from the NWF.
Weather extremes are becoming the norm, and we are going to need to adjust quickly. We can adjust, to an extent, but what about wildlife? Weather extremes send confusing signals to animals and plants about when to migrate, when to flower, when to mate, and when to search for food. This will cause disruptions to habitats, plant and animal communities, and the availability of water and food. Some species that are mobile will be less vulnerable than those that aren't - especially trees and other plants, including food crops that we all rely on. Already food and water insecurity are helping to de-stabilize global communities and political regimes. Climate disruption has been a big part of our human past and it will continue to be in the future.