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NASA Study Finds Winter Blocking A Natural And Commonplace Event

November 7, 2014

By Paul Homewood  

 

h/t Mick J

 

We are familiar with claims that the sort of blocking events which brought the Polar Vortex last year are caused, or at least made much worse, by “the melting of Arctic ice”. Jennifer Francis has been pushing this theme relentlessly, while the usual suspects like Katharine Hayhoe and the charlatan, John Holdren, have jumped on the bandwagon.

 

However, in 2011, NASA themselves published a paper showing that these events run in cycles and are purely natural.

 

Stalled Weather Systems More Frequent in Decades of Warmer Atlantic

11.03.11

 

Slow-moving winter weather systems that can lead to massive snowfalls are more frequent during the decades when the North Atlantic Ocean is warmer than usual, a new NASA study finds. The study demonstrates that the impacts of such systems, which are often fueled by an atmospheric phenomenon known as atmospheric blocking, go far beyond the atmosphere and can trigger changes in ocean circulation.
Blocking events occur when one of the jet streams —fast-flowing air currents traveling around the Earth in the upper part of the troposphere—pinches off large masses of air from the normal wind flow for an extended period. These kinks in the jet stream typically last at least five days but can persist for weeks. They can cause weather patterns to stall over one area and fuel floods, droughts, and other extreme weather events.
In the North Atlantic, atmospheric blocking centers generally form over Greenland and Western Europe. A blocking event that took place over Greenland in the winter of 2009-10 ultimately led to intense blizzards in the East Coast of the United States, in an episode popularly known as Snowmageddon.

 

A blocking event over Greenland led to intense blizzards in the East Coast of the United States in February 2010.

 

A blocking event over Greenland led to intense blizzards in the East Coast of the United States in February 2010. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite captured this true-color image on February 11, 2010, after a second snow storm had hit the East Coast in less than a week.

 

 

Now, a team of researchers lead by Sirpa Häkkinen, an oceanographer at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., has reanalyzed atmospheric data from the 20th century and concluded that blocking events occurred up to 30 percent more often from the 1930s to the 1960s and during a period that started in the late 1990s and continues to the present.
At first, the researchers thought the increase in blocking events during these periods might be explained by a climatic phenomenon calledthe North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO). The NAO fluctuates between periods of high and low atmospheric pressure, without a predictable pattern, and strongly influences weather in Europe and the United States.
"The NAO is the usual suspect for all atmospheric changes in the northern hemisphere," Häkkinen said.
But since 1996, the NAO has been in an almost a neutral state, while blocking events have continued to be abnormally frequent, especially after 2000.
Häkkinen’s team then looked at how a cyclical series of natural changes in sea surface temperatures, known as the Atlantic Multidecadal Ocean Variability (AMV), was behaving in the decades when there were more clusters of blocking events. The AMV switches phases every few decades.
The researchers observed the frequency of blocked weather events in the North Atlantic –from the equator to Greenland– over the entire twentieth century and compared it to the evolution of ocean surface temperatures for the same area. They then removed the effect that global warming has on water temperatures, and found that decades with more frequent, recurring blocking events in the North Atlantic corresponded to those decades when the North Atlantic Ocean was warmer than usual, as it is now.

The number of winter blocking events (black and blue lines) correlates strongly with fluctuations in the temperature of surface waters in the North Atlantic Ocean (red line).

The number of winter blocking events (black and blue lines) correlates strongly with fluctuations in the temperature of surface waters in the North Atlantic Ocean (red line). For their analysis, the researchers removed the effect global warming has on water temperatures.

 

 

The team also found that these short-term weather blocking events impacts beyond the atmosphere and may ultimately alter ocean currents.
A series of connected changes begin because clusters of blocking events can divert the normal track of the storms crossing the Atlantic, which in turn can alter the twisting motion that the wind has on ocean waters, or wind curl. Depending on how wind curl works, it can speed up or slow down the large, circulating currents in the ocean known as gyres. When a blocking event reverses the rotation of the wind curl, the winds push against the direction of the whirlpool-like North Atlantic subpolar gyre, slowing its rotation. A slower, weaker gyre allows subtropical waters that would normally be trapped in the whirlpool-like flow to escape and move northward.
"These warmer and more saline waters then invade the subpolar ocean and cause a series of impacts," said Peter Rhines, an oceanographer at the University of Washington, Seattle, and co-author of the new study. "They erode the base of glaciers, contributing to the melting of the Greenland ice sheet. And the change in temperature and freshness of the waters can alter subpolar ecosystems, too."
A better understanding of the linkage between the Atlantic Multidecadal Ocean Variability and blocking events could lead to better weather forecasts and improved seasonal predictions.
"For example, knowing that there’s going to be a potential for more blocking events causing more snowfall would not only help people prepare better for the winter; it would be useful with water resources management," said Häkkinen.
Denise Worthen, a researcher with Wyle Information Systems/NASA Goddard Space Flight Center contributed to this study, which NASA funded.

 

http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/blocking-atlantic.html

 

A few points stand out here:

1) It is dangerous to assume that one thing causes the other, i.e warmer waters cause increased blocking. It may be that they are both caused by a combination of other events.

2) The sort of winter blocking seen in recent years is certainly not unusual, and it would appear that such blocking was more common between 1940 and 1960.

3) The graph shows sea temperature anomalies, not absolutes, so it is not clear that blocking correlates with actual temperatures, so much as relative ones. This is an important distinction, because ocean cycles, like the AMO, are part of a bigger climatic system, and will consequently have wide ranging impacts on climate.

4) Although the sea surfaces graph is effectively detrended, the high frequency of blocking events between 1940 and 1960 does raise the question whether Atlantic sea surface temperatures in those days were actually higher than we now believe.

 

 

 

What is clear is that John Holdren, even if not aware of this particular study, should have made himself aware of this sort of research before blaming everything on melting Arctic ice.

5 Comments
  1. November 7, 2014 11:32 pm

    Thanks, Paul.
    It is refreshing to read something from NASA that implicates no models producing the “data”.

  2. Richard111 permalink
    November 8, 2014 8:38 am

    “”For their analysis, the researchers removed the effect global warming has on water temperatures.””

    How inconvenient! Now we can’t see how much the water warmed from CO2 in the air.

  3. Bloke down the pub permalink
    November 8, 2014 11:03 am

    The warmists will take the part ‘decades with more frequent, recurring blocking events in the North Atlantic corresponded to those decades when the North Atlantic Ocean was warmer than usual, as it is now.’ and stick their fingers in their ears if you talk about anything else.

  4. John F. Hultquist permalink
    November 8, 2014 5:17 pm

    There is an article here . . .
    http://www.weather.com/news/science/environment/arctic-blast-linked-global-warming-20140106

    . . . using information from Jeff Masters and Jennifer Francis. Here are a couple of paragraphs:

    “As sea ice retreats, sunshine that would have been reflected back to space by the bright ice is instead absorbed by the ocean, which heats up, melting even more ice,” Francis explained in a March 2012 article at Yale360.
    “Extra heat entering the vast expanses of open water that were once covered in ice is released back to the atmosphere in the fall,” she adds. “All that extra heat being deposited into the atmosphere cannot help but affect the weather, both locally and on a large scale.”
    Why? Because the Arctic is warming so quickly – about twice as fast as as
    (sic) the rest of the planet – the difference in temperature between the Arctic and the lower latitudes is narrowing.

    Your post from 3 days ago:
    https://notalotofpeopleknowthat.wordpress.com/2014/11/05/arctic-sea-ice-extent-highest-since-2001/

    . . . shreds (maybe not a strong enough verb) the reasoning in those statements. This brings to mind well known quotes by Einstein and Feynman about what it takes to discredit a theory.

    Meanwhile, North America is experiencing another big chill.

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