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It was just a Negative Arctic Oscillation

February 3, 2010

I manufactured a little down time to read some of the papers and articles that seem to pour out of my poor computer everyday.   In addition to providing me with some very good information, this reading session has also turned up some interesting tidbits.

It turns out that this winter’s cold temperatures are the result of the most extreme Negative Arctic Oscillation since the 1970’s.  The near-record lows we experienced in December and January were the result of high air pressures in the Arctic.  That high pressure disrupted the jet stream, decreasing its east-west flow and increasing the jet’s tendency to blow north to south.  That caused the negative Arctic Oscillation; the frigid air from the north rushed south into North America while warmer mid-latitude air shifted north.  Even so, including December’s unusual low temperatures across the U.S., globally, 2009 was just a fraction of a degree cooler than 2005, the warmest year on record.  2009 is tied for second place with 1998, 2002, 2003, 2006, and 2007.

It was pointed out that the Lower 48 states cover only 1.5% of the Earth’s surface.  The rest of the planet experienced warm temperatures resulting in the global average that put 2009 in the record book.   Considering our small surface area I guess we shouldn’t expect to be able to dictate the global temperature average.  But we can be pretty provincial about things like that and like to be thought of as trend setters.  Maybe that’s why we can’t understand why French waiters don’t like us.

Initially I thought we might be able to skew things by including Alaska in our surface area.  But Alaska is too close to, and hangs into, the Arctic.  I’ve got a load of stuff that suggests it probably is better to leave Alaska out of the count.  Lots of weird stuff going on up there:  Arctic Ocean becoming more acidic from CO2 absorption, methane leakage increasing from both terrestrial and undersea permafrost, melting and disappearing tundra, etc.

But I’m also seeing some surprising things south of the Arctic too.   Paul Polman, CEO of Unilver, a large European multinational corporation, addressed a conference of business leaders in Davos last month.  He asked them to ignore the demands of short-term shareholders and lead from the front on sustainability and climate change.  “We want to be in business for the next 500 years.” 

But maybe that’s not so radical; I see that Pope Benedict XVI has gone public in his displeasure over the failure to put together a climate treaty at the Copenhagen summit.  Popes have the reputation of being pretty mainstream.

— Margadant

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