Once the climate wheels were in motion, it was bound to happen; it is just that no one expected it to occur so soon. In a brand-new study out this week scientists demonstrate how large atmospheric wave patterns greatly increase the chance of more heatwaves in food-producing regions worldwide---more specifically in Northern America, Western Europe, and throughout Asia.
The Risk is Serious
Published in the respected journal Nature Climate Change, this new study ("Amplified Rossby waves enhance risk of concurrent heatwaves in major breadbasket regions") finds that these simultaneous heatwaves will significantly reduce crop production across those regions. In our interconnected world, this reduction will create the risk of multiple harvest failures with numerous far-reaching consequences, including social unrest. Moreover, this situation is likely to lead to spikes in food price and affect food availability even in areas not directly affected by the heatwaves.
Greenhouse Gasses are Fueling this Rise in Temperatures
According to the study's lead author, Dr. Kai Kornhuber from the University of Oxford's Department of Physics and Colombia University's Earth Institute, "Co-occurring heatwaves will become more severe in the coming decades if greenhouse gases are not mitigated." The scientists found a "20-fold increase in the risk of simultaneous heatwaves in major crop-producing regions when these global-scale wind patterns are in place." Up to this point, no one had seen this major vulnerability in the food system because the interconnections had not been quantified.
A Primer on Jet Stream Waves
The Northern Hemisphere's polar jet stream is a fast-moving band of winds coming from the West that navigates the lower layers of the atmosphere. The stream of winds is created by the coming together of cold air from the Arctic and rising warm air from the tropics. The jet stream's wavy appearance is produced when the heavier cold air sinks and pushes warm air regions north, giving the jet stream its wavy appearance. This pattern spreads across the mid-latitudes of North America, Europe, and Asia. Plus from time to time, "fingers" of cold air come down from the Arctic; this condition creates corresponding waves and flows that rush eastward with the rotation of the Earth. The regions that are particularly susceptible to these atmospheric patterns are Western North America, Western Europe, and the Caspian Sea; these regions get heat and drought locked at the same time and crop yields are negatively affected.
The Past Does Not Equal the Future
According to one of the co-authors of the study Dr. Dim Coumou from the Institute for Environmental Studies at VU Amsterdam usually low harvests in one area are offset by good harvests elsewhere. However, these jet stream waves can adversely affect harvests in several important breadbasket regions at the same time, thus creating risks to global food production.
The Trajectory Does Not Look Good for Agriculture
The production of greenhouse gases does not appear to be slowing down, except in rare countries like Costa Rica that are committed to using alternative energy. If the levels continue to rise, there is little doubt that worldwide populations will be affected. It does not matter whether we are in a 5000-year cycle, if heatwaves cause havoc for farmers across the globe. If we know that rising levels of greenhouse gases will cause these major disruptions, we must take action now to prevent them! That said, I am not optimistic that these actions will be taken; I hope I am wrong about this one.
Special thanks to Scitech Daily. To read the entire article, click here.
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