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Contradictory Cooling in the North Atlantic Causes Heavy East Coast Snowfall


I draw your attention to this article on the website RealClimate, referring to a cold spot that has appeared in the western North Atlantic:  This is also referenced in today’s edition of “Daily Climate”, a blog that aggregates climate stories for the global warming oriented people out there.

There is an area that is much cooler than normal, about a degree Celsius below, which really stands out on the surface temperature records.  The article has a figure showing the globe and temperature changes that makes this really stand out.  The reason for the anomalous cooling is apparently that the Gulf Stream has weakened in the last few years, an event not duplicated in proxy records of the last thousand years.  This proxy record is the subject of the RealClimate post, which is rather technical but worth exploring.

The authors of the study referenced in RealClimate state that their study of the proxy record for the last thousand years indicates that the weakening of the Gulf Stream System is caused by global warming and not by natural variations to a high degree of confidence.

This anomalous cold area is suggested as a cause of the extremely heavy snowfall just recorded in winter storm “Jason” over the last weekend.  There is also a change in the jet stream that leads to cold air from Canada streaming down across the East Coast of the US; this cold air is meeting extra-humid warm air near the coastline, causing an extra-heavy snowfall.  The warm air is more humid than usual because of the anomalous cooling of the sea surface.

Scientists have consistently underestimated the extent and the effects of global warming ever since forecasts began.  The IPCC reports that come out every few years have contained predictions and degrees of uncertainty associated with those predictions; every prediction published so far has been an underestimate of how conditions have actually turned out.  While this is good for the reputations of the scientists involved since they are seen as conservative, it is bad for the people affected by climate change.  Changes have been greater and more extensive than expected, and this suggests that in the far future (say, the year 2100) the changes may be overwhelming.

The things that we could and should do to slow down or reverse this change in climate have not been worked out.  The agreement recently worked out between 190 countries, while an improvement over past agreements, is unlikely to do much to slow down climate change.  There has, however, been an experiment published by Lawrence Livermore Laboratories that may show considerable promise.  Scientists at this government lab (known for its work on nuclear weapons) have worked out, experimentally, a method of desalinating seawater that results in an alkaline residue that directly soaks up carbon dioxide and holds it in the residue water as bicarbonate ions.  This residue can be returned to the remaining seawater to partially reverse the acidification that has occurred as a result of increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide.   Another result of the desalination is the release of gaseous hydrogen, which can be burned to produce more energy.

It may take a decade or more to scale up this experimental process to an industrial level, and longer still to reach a scale that might have an impact on the atmosphere.  Nonetheless, it is this type of innovation that will be needed to get us out of the hole that we are in.

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