State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Climate change may be affecting the jet stream

If you have ever looked at a weather map, you’ve a seen picture of the jet stream, that wavy west to east line linking areas experiencing relatively similar weather. In the three dimensional world, jet streams are high altitude westerly winds that occur along the boundaries between air masses of different temperatures. They are driven by the temperature gradient; in the winter, when the gradient is steepest, jet streams are strongest.

A new study provides evidence that climate change may be affecting the northern hemisphere jet stream. As a result of climate change, Arctic autumn temperatures have warmed by as much as 5 degrees Celsius (9 degrees F), reducing the temperature gradient between the Arctic and temperate latitudes. In response the jet stream appears to be moving northward and its wind speed slowing. In turn, this may be slowing the westward progression of waves in the jet stream, which cause weather variation along their westward path as they fluctuate north and south.

The slowing of the jet stream, therefore, could cause weather patterns to remain in place for longer, resulting in prolonged heat waves or cold snaps.

There is something intuitive about this, I think. I’ve recently had a couple of conversations about what the unnervingly consistent and mild winter we are experiencing in the northeastern US-and indeed across the country- means for the coming summer. This study indicates that the jet stream is increasingly likely to stay where it is. If so, we really could be in for a hot one.

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12 years ago

[…] position of these jets varies regularly with the seasons, and with El Nino events (and there is evidence that it is shifting now due to climate change). But they also develop kinks and wiggles, often […]

James Harding
James Harding
12 years ago

When I took Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Illinois over 30 years ago, I had a professor who informed us that as the temperature of the earth warms, the temperature of the jet stream will get warmer and as a result get slower. Also, the use of the word “stream” is very appropriate because as anyone who lives by a stream or river will tell you, as the flow slows, the stream will want to meander or wander. Therefore, as the jet stream warms and slows, expect is to “meander” which will have the result of bringing colder air farther south and warmer air farther north than traditional patterns. Sound familiar? Again… THIS WAS OVER 30 YEARS AGO. So how long or how much information does the human species need to overcome denial?

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11 years ago

[…] The Earth Institute Colombia Univ. blog […]

global warming fearful
global warming fearful
11 years ago

Here’s an interesting addition: I’ve recently learned that earthquake activity, specifically movement of tectonic plates around the globe has been shown to have a relationship to man made changes to our climate – i.e. global warming. This according to scientific research conducted over 18 months ago is some scary stuff given the far ranging implications suggested by that research. Yikes.

Susan Hayes
Susan Hayes
11 years ago

The melting of the polar icecaps and the breaking off of huge icebergs into the North Atlantic has introduced very cold fresh water into the warm, salty water of the jet stream as it flows across the upper Atlantic and near Western Ireland.
This disrupts and changes the flow of the jet stream and will cause changes in the weather, some scientists believe.

Mohunch
Mohunch
11 years ago

@Susan Hayes: The jet stream contains warm salty water?

andy
andy
11 years ago

UK easterly winds for over a month,and now going to continue into APRIL

Anglesey off northwales is in the gulf stream and the sea temp is as cold as anywhere else when usally the weather and sea temp is on average 10deg warmer than else where ? now only 4deg higher

jane
jane
11 years ago

@mohunch, I think you know she meant the gulf stream. Salility is being diluted but not by much if i read it right. Things are speeding up though and speed begets more until well you know or you will.

David ruckledge
David ruckledge
11 years ago

Could it be possible for northern and southern jet streams to merge and what effect would it have on our planet

Meg
Meg
11 years ago

@global warming fearful: From what I have read, I believe that earthquakes can cause an earth axis shift, which could speed up/slow down the surface winds, which causes changes to the position of the jet streams. I cannot believe that man causes earthquakes. They come from deep within the earth. However, there are so many variables that appear to affect the earth’s climate it would take a team of scientists years to sort out all the data available and put the blame on … who or what?

Gary Rose
Gary Rose
7 years ago

No ,! Climate change is the prduct, not the cause . Look at the change in the earths magnetic poles from where true noth is now ,and where older maps shows it to have been . The changes creat a different paradigm, for the sake of simplicity , we will call WOBLE . This rotational deviation , due to simple varifyable facts , creats this remarkably predictable and easly plotted effect on the jet strem . Not rocket science ! Not climate change .

Gary Rose
Gary Rose
7 years ago

Our atmosphete contains .04 % Co2 , just barely enough to maintain existing plant life . Ask yourself this simple question. Did you know that simple fact ?

Paul Bryan
Paul Bryan
4 years ago

Dear friends, Date, 11th July 2020,
The Jetstream has a major effect on the weather here in the United Kingdom.
When it flows above the northern tip of Scotland and nearer to the Artic we generally have fine weather, when it flows South of the UK, say following the route of the English Chanel we have bad weather.
In recent years it seems to be spending more time in the position, South of the UK that is, producing some extreme weather, floods etc.
Strangely, during lockdown we have seen it stabilise north of the UK bringing some fine weather.
This might be a coincidence, however it is worthwhile looking at the possibility that the reduction in pollutants and heat from Industry rising from the United States and Canada during the Lockdown was enough to allow the Jetstream to stabilise, or have a less of a “Wobble” and least return to the more stable existence it presented say 40 or 50 years ago when in the UK Summers were Summers and Winters were not extreme.
I would love to know if anyone had the means with say Infrared Satellite records and any ideas of how to measure this potential effect, we really welcome a real Summer again in the UK.

john
john
1 year ago

I am an ordinary old 86yr man and i am finding it hard to see which came first chicken or egg .
The jet stream would be straight if not for highs and lows beneath it.
Its wiggles are result of doging round highs and lows.
Highs and lows is what gives us weather not jet stream.
Does jet stream drag highs and lows round world by colaris effect thus distributing the weather to differing parts of the globe. I see this as what might be called extreem weather in some places ie the redistribution of weather around the globe. This brings me back to start again the extreem weather is not jet stream but an area of globe being stuck with a high or low both of which i guess are intesifying due to global patchy warming. i give up [ i wonder how i will know if i get an answer ?]