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Killer Heat Waves and Floods Linked to Climate Change

Downpours flood the streets of Dhaka, Bangladesh. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Feb 27 2013 (IPS) - Killer heat waves, floods and storms are increasingly caused by climate change, new research reveals.

Scientists in Germany say they have found how greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels are helping to trap the jet stream, resulting in extraordinary weather such as the 2010 Pakistan flood and the 2011 heat wave in the United States.

Human-driven climate change repeatedly disturbs the flow of atmospheric waves around the globe’s Northern hemisphere, said lead author Vladimir Petoukhov of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) in Germany.

Giant atmospheric waves called Rossby waves are meanders in the strong, high-altitude winds known as jet streams and have a major influence on weather. These wave movements are caused by the difference in temperatures between the cold air from the Arctic and hot air from the tropics.

When the waves shift north, they suck warm air from the tropics to Europe, Russia, or the U.S., and when they swing down, they do the same thing with cold air from the Arctic, said Petoukhov.

“During several recent extreme weather events, these planetary waves almost freeze in their tracks for weeks,” he said. “So instead of bringing in cool air after having brought warm air in before, the heat just stays.”

This unnatural pattern is due to human heating of the climate through emissions of greenhouse gases that result from burning fossil fuels, according to the study published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

However, this heating of the atmosphere is wildly uneven. The Arctic is warming two to three times faster than the global temperature rise of 0.8C and that affects the Rossby waves and is slowing the jet stream.

“(Our research) complements previous research that already linked such phenomena to climate change,” said Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, a co-author of the study.

IPS previously reported research showing the dramatic loss of Arctic sea ice and rapid warming of the region was affecting weather patterns in the northern hemisphere.

The unprecedented expanse of ice-free Arctic Ocean has been absorbing the 24-hour sun over the short polar summer. The heat in the water must be released into the atmosphere if the ice is to re-form in the autumn.

“This is like a new energy source for the atmosphere,” Jennifer Francis, a researcher at Rutgers University, told the Guardian.

Major declines of Arctic summer sea ice as in 2011 and 2007 have been linked to colder winters in the UK and northern Europe, Francis said. The record ice loss in 2012 has been followed by a cold and stormy winter over much of Europe.

“The jet stream is clearly weaker,” said Francis. That means weather systems, be it rain or dry conditions, are slow to move on and last longer. Ultimately, this can result in “blocking” events, such as the conditions that produced the terrible heatwave in western Russia during the summer of 2010 and floods in Pakistan, she said.

Last summer, Greenland experienced a similar blocking anti-cyclone, resulting in a record surface melting of its ice sheet. “Blocks act like a traffic jam, slowing down weather patterns elsewhere,” Francis said.

Scientists are surprised by how extreme these changes have been with a relatively small amount of warming. That has prompted some to speak out politically to urge emission reductions. On Monday, a group of Canadian and U.S. scientists pleaded with the Canadian government to stop the expansion of the Alberta tar sands oil projects and take real steps to reduce carbon emissions.

Canada ranks 58th out of 61 countries according the 2013 Climate Change Performance Index.

“The Canadian government has no credible plan for stabilizing greenhouse gas emissions, much less reducing them,” Danny Harvey, a University of Toronto climate scientist, said in a statement.

Canada needs “across-the-board deep reductions”, Harvey said. “Continued expansion of the oil sands operations runs counter to this imperative.”

The tar sands, also called oil sands, are responsible for about 300 million tonnes of CO2 a year (production and consumption) — more than most countries. The industry, supported by the Canadian and Alberta governments, hopes to triple this amount.

In recent weeks, they have been heavily lobbying the new Obama administration to get approval for the Keystone XL pipeline. If President Obama approves it, Keystone XL will bring 800,000 barrels of tar sands oil south from Alberta to the U.S. gulf coast every day for many years.

That decision is expected in a few weeks.

Last December, at the U.N. climate conference in Doha, Qatar, Schellnhuber declared: “The first law of humanity is not to kill your children.”

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  • Pete_Ridley

    Hi Stephen,

    I see that you are still pushing the scare-mongering propaganda about our use of fossil fuels leading us towards catastrophic climate change (CACC). You start your propaganda with ” .. Killer heat waves, floods and storms are increasingly caused by climate change, new research reveals .. ” and eagerly go on to talk about ” .. 2010 Pakistan flood and the 2011 heat wave in the United States .. “.

    Why no mention of similar weather events that took place decades ago, e.g:
    – The North American Heat Wave of 1936 ( ),
    – The Great New York Heat Wave of 1896 ( ),

    As you ought to know, the inhabitants of the Indus region have experienced catastropic flooding for thousands of years ” .. During a warm period 6,000 years ago, the Indus was a monster river, more powerful and more prone to flooding than today .. ” ( ) but no mention af that from you!!

    Scaremongering about heat waves and floods is easy but determining the reasons for them is quite another thing. Did you bother to take a look at the terrain through which the Indus traverses from its origins to its final destination? I doubt it but it really is worthwhile doing so if you are interested in more than just pushing the CACC propaganda! How about this QUOTE: .. The catastrophic flood of 2010 along the Indus River began in July with unusually intense but not unprecedented rainfall in the upland catchment. During four months, close to 2,000 fatalities occurred and ~20,000,000 inhabitants were displaced. The meteorological events triggered but did not cause this “natural” disaster. Analysis of multi-temporal remote sensing and topography instead indicates that most damage was caused by dam and barrage-related backwater effects, reduced water and sediment conveyance capacity, and multiple failures of irrigation system levees .. UNQUOTE ( ).

    As the UK’s Walker Institute said about those 2010 floods ” .. it would be wrong to look at a single event, such as the Pakistan floods, and say that it is due to climate change .. “.

    Balance seems to be a concept that leaves you cold!

    One thing that you forgot to mention about those ” .. scientists in germany .. ” who are blaming our use of fossil fuels for heat waves and floods – they research IMPACTS, not CAUSES, of changes to the different global climates, i.e. what climate changes do not why they change. e.g. Lead author Ptof. Vladimir Petoukhov is employed by Potsdam’s Institute for Climate IMPACT Research ( ).

    As I understand it the research that they reported on was not into causes of temperature changes but into their effects.

    One very important item that you totally ignored in your scare-mongerng commentary was QUOTE: .. the suggested physical process increases the probability of weather extremes, but additional factors certainly play a role as well, including natural variability.” Also, the 32-year period studied in the project provides a good indication of the mechanism involved, yet is too short for definite conclusions .. ” ( ).

    Maybe you didn’t spot (or did you deliberately ignore?) those very significant words “might” and “may” ( ), neither of which appear in your report. Come on Stephen, let’s have a little honest reporting from you. You prejudice shrieks at us every time you write.

    BTW, are you related to Professor Denis Leahy of the University of Calgary? I see a strong resemblance. I recall asking you about that several months ago but you remain silent about it.

    Best regards, Pete Ridley ( ).

  • Stephen Leahy

    Pete you are using old or irrelevant info to support your position as usual.

  • Pete_Ridley

    Hi Stephen,

    Like most of what you write for your scare-mongering posts, your “ .. Pete you are using old or irrelevant info to support your position .. ” is very easy to say but you provide nothing to substantiate it. You are typical of the ardent supporters of the Catastrophic Anthropogenic Climate Change (CACC) hypothesis who totally ignore the significant uncertainties expressed by serious scientists. You change scientific uncertainty into certainty and I am not convinced that it is other than deliberate.

    At the height of CACC hysteria in 2007/8 Prof. Vladimir Petoukhov was prepared to have his name associaterd with ludicrous scare-mongering statements like “ .. Because of the millennial persistence of the fossil fuel CO2 in the atmosphere, high levels of stratospheric aerosol loading would have to continue for thousands of years until CO2 was removed from the atmosphere. A termination of stratospheric aerosol loading results in abrupt global warming of up to 5C within several decades .. ” ( Attitudes have changed since Climategate with scientists being less-inclined to push the CACC propaganda despite the risk to their research funds.

    I challenge you to provide a link to a recent (post-Climategate 2009) peer-reviewed source where lead author Petoukhov says “ .. Human-driven climate change repeatedly disturbs the flow of atmospheric waves around the globe’s Northern hemisphere .. ” because I can’t find one anywhere. The only source that I could find was – your article!

    As a side-issue, I find it interesting that I happened across your contributions to the CACC hysteria when researching the background of confirmed CACC sceptic Joseph Postma, a “senior fellow” of blogging group Principia Scientific International (see Section 3.12 of Joe Postma has co-authored papers with Professor Denis Leahy of the University of Calgary’s Physics and Astronomy department ( and perhaps you can see why I asked if there was any relationship.

    Best regards, Pete Ridley (

  • penguiner

    So now that we are up to 17 years without any global warming, how exactly is CO2 responsible for these weather events? Without the intermediate cause of warming, there is no other mechanism for CO2 to effect climate.

  • Stephen Leahy

    Nonsense. Global warming continues, 2012 was one the hottest years in history. Hottest ever in the US. CO2 is greenhouse gas otherwise the planet would have the climate of the moon. Learn some basic science instead of copying junk off blogs.

  • penguiner

    LOL, hottest year in history. Thanks for making it apparent that you have no idea what you are talking about. Perhaps you meant hottest during the instrument record, that is questionable given that in order to make that true Hansen and his buddies had to adjust the 30’s temperature records down. If you talk geological history, what we are experiencing is quite typical in temperature and rate of change (given smoothing to comparable resolution)

    If you look at proxy reconstructions (non-mannian statistical manipulations) for human history, this modern maxima is comparable to prior warming periods like the Roman or Minoan.

    Yes its a greenhouse gas. Its a very weak greanhouse gas and virtually insignificant given that the wavelengths it absorbs are almost fully saturated by water vapor, the only the greenhouse gas that really matters.

    Right now we are underneath Hansens projects for what the temperature would be if CO2 was held to no increase as of 2000. Of course, that didn’t happen. It turned out to be somewhere between senario A and B, and is dead wrong. If your science cannot predict the hypothesis, it is wrong.

  • Pete_Ridley


    You really should pay attention to your own advice – ” Learn some basic science instead of copying junk”, wherever you get yours from. You simply parrot what other CACC supporters feed you with and seem to make no attempt whatever to substantiate what they have said. ’tis you who talk nonsense my friend, not penguiner (whoever he or she might be). at least you have the courage of your convictions.

    Best regards, Pete Ridley 9

  • Stephen Leahy

    So you think the World Meteorological Organisation, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NASA and many other scientific organizations are all wrong? LOL. Scientists from those organizations are the ones who created the proxy reconstructions and they say it is now warmer than prior warmer periods — and getting warmer. You’re just parroting unfounded allegations about Hansen found on climate denial websites.

  • Stephen Leahy

    You don’t really understand science if you think this is all a matter of opinion or ideology.

  • penguiner

    The ol’ appeal to authority. Which one of your esteemed organizations backed the view 20 some years ago that the global temperatures anomoly would be flat in the coming 2 decades?

  • Stephen Leahy

    So’d you get the cable guy to remove your infected spleen?

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