Jet Streams are the Weather
Devastating floods destroyed towns in Germany and Belgium. A ruthless heat wave broiled the Western United States and Canada. Heavy rains paralysed a Chinese industrial hub home to 10 million people. These recent weather phenomena are being intensified by the changing climate.
But the link between these far-flung extremes goes beyond warming global temperatures. All of these events are touched by jet streams, strong and narrow bands of westerly winds blowing above the Earth’s surface.
The currents are generated when cold air from the poles clashes against hot air from the tropics, creating storms and other phenomena such as rain and drought.
Jet streams are the weather – they create it and they steer it. Sometimes the jet stream takes on a very convoluted pattern. When we see it taking big swings north and big dips southward we know we’re going to see some unusual weather conditions. When that happens, warm air travels further north and cold air penetrates further south.
Under these conditions, winds often weaken and dangerous weather can remain stuck in the same place for days or weeks at a time – rather than just a few hours or a day – leading to prolonged rains and heat waves.
Death Valley Hits 130′
Death Valley is more than earning its morbid name this weekend, as temperatures in the California desert reached a near-record-breaking 130 degrees Fahrenheit (54.4 degrees Celsius).
That makes it a tie for the hottest temperature ever verified on Earth since the mercury hit 131 F (55 C) on July 7, 1931, in Kebili, Tunisia. Though an even hotter temperature of 134 F (56.7 C) was recorded in Furnace Creek (then called Greenland Ranch) in Death Valley, on July 10, 1913, per Guinness World Records, some climate scientists say that reading was not verified.
Eye of Fire
A rare combination of events near a Mexican oil platform in the Bay of Campeche created a massive ocean-surface fire that took hours to extinguish.
Mexico’s state-owned Pemex oil company, which has a long history of major accidents at its facilities, says the leak of an underwater pipeline allowed natural gas to accumulate on the ocean floor, and was probably ignited by a lightning bolt when it rose to the surface. Once a brief video of the fire went viral on social media, the orange bubbling mass on the water’s surface was dubbed “eye of fire.”
Pemex said swift action by its workers prevented any environmental damage, a claim disputed by environmental groups and activists.
Hottest June in North America
If the melting power cables in Portland, Oregon, weren’t enough of an indication, new satellite data confirms what many sweat-drenched Americans could have guessed: June 2021 was the single hottest June on record in North America.
The month saw record heat waves blast the Pacific Northwest and western Canada, with stagnant air bearing down on densely populated cities, like Seattle and Portland, for several days in a row. The culprit was a dangerous weather phenomenon called an omega block, which is essentially a dome of hot air trapped in place by atmospheric currents.
Unprecedented heat – Climate change is frying the Northern Hemisphere
The tiny town of Lytton has come to hold a grim record. On Tuesday, it experienced Canada’s highest-ever temperature, in an unprecedented heat wave that has over a week killed hundreds of people and triggered more than 240 wildfires across British Columbia, most of which are still burning. Lytton hit 49.6 degrees Celsius (121.3 degrees Fahrenheit), astounding for the town of just 250 people nestled in the mountains, where June maximum temperatures are usually around 25 degrees. Now fires have turned much of Lytton to ash and forced its people, as well as hundreds around them, to flee.
Roads melted last week in America’s Northwest, and residents in New York City were told not to use high-energy appliances, like washers and dryers — and painfully, even their air conditioners — for the sake of the power grid.
In Russia, Moscow reported its highest-ever June temperature of 34.8 degrees on June 23, and Siberian farmers are scrambling to save their crops from dying in an ongoing heat wave. Even in the Arctic Circle, temperatures soared into the 30s.
In India, tens of millions of people in the northwest were affected by heat waves.
And in Iraq, authorities announced a public holiday across several provinces for Thursday, including the capital Baghdad, because it was simply too hot to work or study, after temperatures surpassed 50 degrees and its electricity system collapsed.
Hundreds of people have been reported to have died from the various heatwaves across North America, Russia and India.
Beaches in Florida, the Caribbean and tropical Atlantic are being overwhelmed by masses of sargassum, a seaweed now growing explosively because of fertilizer runoff.
While the seaweed is key to the marine environment, excessive nitrogen and phosphorus in coastal waters from the fertilizers have caused the proliferation.
This poses a health risk as rotting sargassum creates toxic hydrogen sulfide gas that can be dangerous for people with asthma and other respiratory problems. Florida Atlantic University professor Brian Lapointe says levels of fecal bacteria can also be high around the decaying blooms. He adds that runoff from the Mississippi River and others from the Amazon to the Congo are responsible for the new great “Atlantic Sargassum Belt.”
Wind Power Over-population
The expansion of wind farms to generate power could reach a point of diminishing returns if too many are placed near each other, new research finds. This is a real threat for coastal areas of Northern Europe, where limited space is seeing the turbines being built in clusters.
Writing in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers say wind speeds up to 60 miles downwind of the farms are significantly slowed down by them under some weather conditions.
This means output from neighbouring wind farms could be reduced up to 25% if they are placed too close together.
A burning container ship dumped tons of plastic debris onto Sri Lanka’s beaches, prompting a widespread environmental disaster.
Sea Snot Invasion
Climate change and pollution are being blamed for the growing marine threat known as sea snot, mucus-like organic matter that currently threatens coral and the fishing industry in parts of the Mediterranean.
Globs of sea snot can also be found elsewhere in the planet’s waterways, and it can host dangerous bacteria such as E. coli. Sea snot’s coverage is currently exploding in Turkey’s Marmara Sea near Istanbul, where fishermen have not been able to cast their nets for months.
When the marine mucilage forms a layer over the water’s surface, it prevents fish from being able to breathe. This kills them and depletes oxygen levels in the water, eventually choking other marine life.
Forests along the U.S. Eastern Seaboard that are being killed by saltwater intrusion are releasing greenhouse gases that scientists have nicknamed “tree farts.”
These “ghost forests,” have been created by rising sea levels and storm surges that force salt water to seep into the coastal soil.
A North Carolina State University study has measured how much carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide the trees are emitting as they decay. “Even though these standing dead trees are not emitting as much as the soils, they’re still emitting something, and they definitely need to be accounted for,” said lead researcher Melinda Martinez.
A new study finds that human activities have transformed nearly a fifth of the planet’s land surface since the 1960s, roughly equivalent to the areas of Europe and Africa combined.
During that period, Earth’s forest cover alone has been reduced by nearly a million square kilometers, with farmland and grazing pastures increasing by about the same amount. While forests have actually expanded in the Northern Hemisphere during the past 60 years, they have been disappearing at an alarming rate to the south. This is because of the growing production of beef, sugar cane and soybean in the Amazon, palm oil in Southeast Asia and cocoa in Nigeria and Cameroon.
Darwin’s Arch Collapses
The iconic ‘Darwin’s Arch’ in the Galapagos has crashed into the sea. The arch, located less than 0.6 miles (1 kilometer) off the steep and rocky coast of Darwin Island, collapsed as “a consequence of natural erosion,” on May 17.
Radiation – Chernobyl
Fission reactions appear to be occurring in an inaccessible chamber of Ukraine’s crippled Chernobyl nuclear power plant, which exploded 35 years ago.
Scientists say they don’t know if the slow rise in neutron emissions will fizzle out or increase, forcing them to find ways to prevent another catastrophe. “It’s like the embers in a barbecue pit,” said nuclear chemist Neil Hyatt of the University of Sheffield. He says the new rates of fission are very low and believes they probably will not lead to an explosion. But scientists on the scene say they are not sure since there is no direct way to monitor what is happening inside the sealed and intensely radioactive chamber.
New Lightning Capital?
Florida, especially around the Tampa Bay Area, has long been renowned as the capital of lightning strikes in the United States.
But researchers from the Finland-based environmental monitoring company Vaisala say that Oklahoma has narrowly surpassed the Sunshine State for that distinction. Its research found there were 83.4 lightning events per square kilometer in Oklahoma between 2016 and 2020 compared with 82.8 in Florida. But Vaisala meteorologist Chris Vagasky says with statistics that close, it’s hard to say that one state has truly overtaken the other.
Massive DDT Dumping Ground off California Coast
The sea bottom near southern California has been hiding a very dirty secret: decades of discarded chemicals in thousands of barrels. And the toxic debris field is even bigger than anyone expected, containing at least 27,000 drums of DDT and industrial waste, scientists recently discovered.
High concentrations of DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, an insecticide that was widely used for pest control during the 1940s and 1950s) were previously detected in ocean sediments between the Los Angeles coast and Catalina Island, in 2011 and 2013. At the time, scientists who searched the seafloor in the area identified 60 barrels (possibly containing DDT or other waste) and found DDT contamination in sediments, but the full extent of the area’s contamination was unknown.
Now, a research expedition presents a clearer picture of the deep-sea dump site. Their findings reveal a stretch of ocean bottom studded with at least 27,000 industrial waste barrels — and possibly as many as 100,000.