In 2013, after some controversy, South Carolina’s Department of Natural Resources released a report on risks the state could face due to climate change. One of those risks? “A predicted result of climate change is the increase in intense storm events causing greater water inputs in shorter periods of time, affecting flood frequency and duration,” the report noted… That said, climate scientists debate constantly about how and when to link extreme events to climate change, and the questions involved are anything but simple… Jennifer Francis, a climate scientist at Rutgers University who has argued that the melting of the Arctic is changing the nature of the northern hemisphere jet stream, which shapes weather patterns: Recent heavy rains in the Carolinas over the weekend resulted from a deep, slow-moving front that tapped into a wealth of tropical moisture from the Atlantic Ocean. Sea-surface temperatures across the tropical Atlantic and along the U.S. eastern seaboard have been running well above normal, which provided extra evaporation and energy to fuel the frontal system. The entire weather pattern was slow-moving because of blocking high pressure over the N. Atlantic. Is there a connection to climate change? Very possibly, as heavy precipitation events like this one have increased in frequency, particularly in eastern North America.
In the day when the mass production of food trumped everything else, plant breeders developed the “perfect” supermarket tomato. Thick-skinned and with a shelf life for the ages, it was a boon for growers, shippers and retailers… But even non-foodie consumers realized that they were getting the short end of the stick. Those reddish orbs looked like the real thing but tasted like damp cardboard, and the supermarket tomato became a standing joke. It also spurred the rediscovery and celebration of the heirloom tomato, the antique, vernacular fruit that managed to capture not only the folksy history of a regional variety but also the warmth and memory of summer itself. The poster child was the brassy beefsteak Brandywine, but thousands of tomato varieties have survived thanks in large part to this renaissance… This is the magic driving another tomato breeding program in New Jersey, a state where the tomato is a cultural icon. At Rutgers University’s agricultural research farm in Pittstown, hybridizer Tom Orton has been trying to capture the lost flavor of a famous old variety named, simply, Rutgers… I recently met his colleague Jack Rabin at the Snyder farm in Pittstown to taste the shortlisted finalists. We abbreviated their actual identification numbers to No. 1, No. 3 and No. 6.
It’s July- meaning that for most of us, seeing snow on the ground would be extremely surprising. Then again, most of us don’t live in the Arctic, where considerable “snow cover”(as scientists put it) does persist into the spring and into early summer months… In fact, climate researchers consider the amount of remaining snow cover in May and June to be a very important measurement- and this June, it was near record lows across the Northern Hemisphere, according to a new monthly analysis by researchers at Rutgers University… More specifically, explains Rutgers’ David Robinson, who tracks the snow record: The June 2015 snow cover extent over North America was the second lowest on record (period of record is 49 years: 1967-2015). On average, 4,080,000 square kilometers (2,485,000 sq. miles) of the continent was covered. This is above the 3,850,000 sq. km. in 2012, the lowest on record. The mean extent is 5,809,000 (based on the 1981-2010 period). For comparison sake, North America covers 27,709,000 sq. km. from Panama northward and including Greenland.
We already knew Alaska was having some crazy weather lately. That included a record 91 degrees in Eagle in May, the “hottest temperature ever recorded so early in the calendar year in our 49th state,” per our own Capital Weather Gang. And now, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that the state as a whole experienced its warmest May in the weather books… If there’s less snow cover in the high north, then more sun reaches the bare earth, which is darker and absorbs more of it, as David Robinson, a snow cover expert from Rutgers, explained last week. And that increases the chance of thawing permafrost- frozen soil beneath the surface.
Snow cover- the extent of the Earth’s surface that is covered with snow- was the third-lowest on record this May for North America, according to researchers at Rutgers University who track snow cover each year based on an analysis of satellite images… “Whether we have a record or not, it’s still indicative of a period of time where May and June snow extents are still much lower than they were earlier in the satellite era,” says Rutgers geography professor David Robinson, who tracks snow cover each year, adding to a record that now goes back 49 years (to 1967). “It’s just another year at the low end. You’re not going to break a record every year, but it’s going to be low every year.”… “Take the north slope of Alaska,” explains Robinson. “They lost their snow cover about two weeks early this year. For those two weeks, you’ve got the sun shining 24 hours a day, and instead of that sun falling on snow cover, and some of it being reflected right back out to space, and some of it going to melting the snow, well, it’s now falling on darker, snow-free surfaces, and being absorbed, warming the ground, starting to melt permafrost, and also warming the atmosphere.”
After two straight miserably cold winters in the East, the trendy explanation has been that climate change made them more extreme… But two new studies say not so fast, we should expect a warming climate to lead to a marked decrease in cold weather as time wears on… The idea that winters are leading to increased extreme cold and big temperature swings is tied to the hypothesis that the jet stream is slowing down and becoming more erratic. Faster warming in the Arctic compared to regions to the south, a phenomenon known as “Arctic amplification”, is thought to be altering the jet stream’s behavior. Some have dubbed this the “drunk Arctic” hypothesis… “When the Arctic is so warm, the west winds of the jet stream weaken, and this favors the highly wavy pattern to the jet stream responsible for this winter chill in the eastern U.S as well as the continued drought and heat in California,” explained Rutgers meteorology professor Jennifer Francis earlier this winter.
Is the rapid melting of the Arctic paying us back for our greenhouse gas emissions by messing with the jet stream- which carries weather through the northern hemisphere? And could that, in turn, explain recent breakouts of extremes all around the northern half of the world- including recent snowfall in the east coast?… That’s what Rutgers University’s Jennifer Francis has argued in a series of papers going back to 2012- but there has been quite a lot of criticism. Several distinguished climate researchers even wrote to Science magazine in early 2014 contesting the notion, saying that “we we do not view the theoretical arguments underlying it as compelling.”… And yet stubbornly, more published research keeps appearing and seeming to add support to the idea that the warming Arctic is changing the jet stream. That statement comes with an exclamation point on Thursday in particular, with a new paper out in Science that confirms many of Francis’s ideas and applies them not just to extreme winter weather but, in some ways even more troubling, to extremes of summer heat.
A dynamic change to winter, due to global warming, would occur if the warming of the planet overall alters patterns of atmospheric circulation in some way. And this is precisely what some researchers have proposed as the reason why we’re getting these crazy winters… Jennifer Francis, a climate scientist at Rutgers University who focuses on changes to the Arctic, is the best known researcher to make this argument. She believes that the decline of Arctic sea ice is weakening the northern hemisphere jet stream, which brings us our weather. A weaker jet stream, she continues, is more likely to get “stuck” in persistent weather patterns, leading to weather extremes of varying types (whether snow, rain, or lack of rain)… Last week, Francis said that when it comes to this winter and also the last one for the East Coast, “Mother Nature certainly has been giving us lots to talk about.” She noted that while her views are certainly not accepted by all researchers, “there’s been so much new work that’s come out, just in the last six months even, that, it’s getting harder for people to say, ‘oh there’s nothing to this hypothesis.'”
Here’s a word guaranteed to start an argument among scientists and environmental activists: geoengineering. The word covers a variety of hypothetical technological fixes for the problem of climate change… Many environmentalists and scientists abhor the idea. Among their objections: It doesn’t address the rise of atmospheric carbon dioxide, which causes ocean acidification and kills coral reefs…”You’d get whiter skies. People wouldn’t have blue skies anymore,” said Alan Robock, a Rutgers University climate scientist who was not on the academy committee. “Astronomers wouldn’t be happy, because you’d have a cloud up there permanently. It’d be hard to see the Milky Way anymore.”