Scientists Link Global Warming To Harsh Winter And California’s Drought

A new study has found greenhouse gas emissions are what caused the abnormal winter conditions.

By Samantha Olson on April 27, 2014 8:59 PM EDT

New Study Reveals Global Warming As The Cause For California's Drought And Bitter Cold
Scientists use computer simulations to find out why U.S. had severe winter conditions and results reveal global warming as the cause. (Photo: <a href="http://www.sh / Samantha Olson)

A new study claims to have found a strong connection between the recent severe winter conditions and the current drought in California. Man-made global warming is thought to be the cause and Utah State University scientist and the study's lead writer Simon Wang believes his findings came help predict future harsh winters.

The new study, which will be published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, blames a polar vortex and El Nino, a world-weather changing phenomenon that was caused by global warming.

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Wang looked computer simulations with and without the presence of gases from the burning of fossil fuels. When he included carbon dioxide from fossil fuel burning, he compared the two scenarios and found a mirrored reality. What happened in the computer simulation with burning fossil fuels had happened this past extreme winter and other worsening dipole conditions. When the greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossils fuels was removed from the simulation the extremes decreased, which leads to the logical conclusion that negative gas emission is the problem.

An unusual dipole, which is characterized by a difference between sea surface temperatures, according to the Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology, is the culprit. A combination of opposing forces from the Western high-pressure ridge and the Great Lakes' pocket of low pressure gave birth to the climate change known as El Nino.

El Nino will typically occur once every few year when warm water is piled up from weak winds, which then pull cold water from below and make the Pacific overall a warmer temperature. The colder water triggers westerly winds in the tropical Pacific, which persist for several months and eventually warmed water forms an El Nino in the central Pacific.

The study says that the precursor to this El Nino has been amplified by a build-up of temperature rising green gases, which are trapped in the atmosphere because of man-made factors such as pollution.

What makes the El Nino so distinguishably ominous is its positive feedback effect. As the ocean's temperature increases, the winds become weaker. The weak winds allow the warm water to lag and deep colder water is brought to the top and warms again in a cyclical effect so as to feed itself and grow.

Wang told the Associated Press, that he saw the precursors coming months before federal weather officials issued an official El Nino watch last month and determined the colder water that was coming off of China, Vietnam and Taiwan was the precursor to the El Nino. He He tracked similar combinations of highs and lows in North America and found this, combined with an exhaustingly cold and dry winter, is only making it worse.

This year the United States experienced a bizarre winter, with bitter cold and snowy forecasts in the Midwest and on the East coast and then a severely dry forecast throughout the West. According to the latest U.S. drought monitor reading, 100 percent of California is suffering through an official drought.

Not only do people suffer, but California's drought also threatens fish, bird and tree population as they struggle to survive, according to Peter Moyle of the University of California, Davis, Center for Watershed Sciences, who told NBC News.

The state has listed 37 different types of fish as endangered and Moyle said because of the current weather conditions, 80 percent of them could be extinct by the year 2100. This is the third consecutive year California is undergoing a dry year, and in January, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency.

"The problems created by the drought are just a harbinger of things to come," Moyle said.

Wang based his conclusive study on computer simulations, physics and historical data. Although it isn't as detailed and doesn't involve numerous computer model simulations as other formal studies do, Wang said there is still a clear-cut link.

"We found a good link and the link is becoming stronger and stronger," Wang said.

Previous studies have based their findings on unusual activity, such as the jet stream, and possible connections to global warming from the burning of coal, oil and gas. However, this study sets itself apart because it has identified a viable fossil fuel comparison that researchers may be able to use to predict abnormal future weather patterns, he said.

"It's another way that climate change is probably connected to an individual weather event," Rutgers University climate scientist Jennifer Francis told US News and World Report. "There are still a lot of questions out there. It's another piece of the puzzle."

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