Winter storms in the eastern U.S. Drought in the west. Siberia had a heat wave.
Commentary by S. Tom Bond, Retired Chemistry Professor and Resident Farmer, Lewis County, WV
Will the Winter Olympics in Sochi may be short of snow, mostly along with the other complaints about the Russian location. Not much is said about the general heat wave in southern Russia and Siberia in particular. For the Olympics, an Israeli company is to supply all the snow needed.
The day I began work on this article, here in Jane Lew in mid-January, it was 1 F. In Fairbanks, Alaska, it was 46F. Fairbanks is about the middle of Alaska. Nome, west of Fairbanks, on the Pacific Ocean, was 36. Barrow, in the far north of Alaska, was 0 F. I looked around the arctic and Tiksi, halfway along the Arctic Sea coast in Russia, was 59 F. The average summer temperature in that area is below 50 F! Siberia had a serious heat wave.
In July, Norilsk, Siberia, set a temperature record of 90 F! Sounds good to the Russians, more available farmlands, and easier life for residents. On February 3 however, Siberia was back to a normal -30 F. Burr!
Why is the Antarctic is so different from the Arctic region. The warming is having a much less dramatic effect on the far South than on the North. The North Polar Region is covered with a relatively shallow sea, so the ice rises only a few feet above sea level. The seawater currents under the ice bring heat, which affect the temperature of the ice from below. If seawater goes below 28 degrees (rather than the usual freezing point of 32 because of the salt) it freezes. So the water below the Arctic ice is always 28 or slightly above, transferring heat to the underside of the ice. When there is no ice on the water, the dark water absorbs heat normally reflected by the snow, which warms the water, and water evaporates more rapidly. This puts more water into the air above the sea surface than snow does, reducing the air’s density.
On the other hand, the South Polar Region is land frozen to great depth in most places. Most of it is elevated, with an average height of 6001 feet of snow and ice, and enough rock to make it a total of 7198 feet above sea level. For comparison, Spruce Knob, the highest point in West Virginia is 4,863. This height makes it much colder than the North Polar Region. You can compare the two poles here.
A thing many people find hard to understand is that greenhouse gases continue to add heat to the atmosphere year after year. Added greenhouse gases are not proportional to the increase in temperature, but to the ability to raise the temperature, year after year, for decades, and in the case of carbon dioxide, for centuries.
The ocean acts as a buffer and absorbs heat, so there is less temperature change in the atmosphere. Only about two percent of the heat added to the earth remains in the atmosphere. About ninety percent is transferred into the ocean and is stored there. The rest goes into melting ice and into heating the land surface. So much energy [absorbed in the ocean] is equivalent to exploding a Hiroshima bomb every second in the ocean for thirty years.
Although warmth in the tropics and cold in the Polar Regions drive ocean circulation, much as it does atmospheric circulation, no evidence for changes in ocean circulation have been found.
Due to dissolved carbon dioxide, pH is (not increasing) decreasing in many parts of the ocean. Very slightly higher pH makes calcium carbonate dissolve. In some of the ocean there is already enough dissolved carbon dioxide to make formation of shells and corals difficult or impossible. Coral reefs are a source of great diversity of life in the ocean; loss of them would cause profound differences in ocean plant and animal life.
The ocean sea level is rising measurably. Melting ice in the North polar ocean, which floats, does not change sea level, but ice on land, such as on Greenland does. A good popular discussion and many pictures are here.
>> The Jet Stream >>
There are really two jet streams in each the Northern Hemisphere and the Southern Hemisphere. All are at high altitude, above the Troposphere, where weather happens, and below the Stratosphere, the layer above the Troposphere. In the past they have
had relatively small meanders going around the earth, most of the time. But with a smaller difference between the temperature at the North Pole and the Equator, they have lost speed and have larger meanders. They are also much more irregular.
The most important one to us lies between the cold polar air of the Arctic and the warmer air of the Temperate Zone. It is the one that brings cold, dry air into the temperate zone
A semi-persistent high barometric pressure ridge in the atmosphere over the North Pacific Ocean is forcing this Northernmost jet stream far north, and then it comes back down through the middle of North America it causes our cold weather. Here is a daily map of the jet stream. This same high is responsible for dry conditions in the Far West.
Climatic conditions are tied together from one part of the earth to the other like a giant knot. Influences in far-away lands are having strong influences on our weather and our climate. Our climate is the long term condition that prevails regardless of the local short-term weather conditions.