Pioneering New Research Disputes “Wavier” Jet Stream Due to Arctic Warming

Polar Jet Stream

The polar jet stream. Credit: NASA/Trent L Schindler

Jet Stream Not Getting ‘Wavier’ Despite Arctic Warming

Rapid Arctic warming has not led to a “wavier” jet stream around the mid-latitudes in recent decades, pioneering new research has shown.

Scientists from the University of Exeter have studied the extent to which Arctic amplification — the faster rate of warming in the Arctic compared to places farther south — has affected the fluctuation of the jet stream’s winding course over the North Hemisphere.

Recent studies have suggested the warming Arctic region has led to a “wavier” jet stream — which can lead to extreme weather conditions striking the US and Europe.

However, the new study by Dr. Russell Blackport and Professor James Screen, shows that Arctic warming does not drive a more meandering jet stream.

Instead, they believe any link is more likely to be a result of random fluctuations in the jet stream influencing Arctic temperatures, rather than the other way around.

The study is published in the leading journal Science Advances on Wednesday, February 19, 2020.

Dr. Blackport, a Research Fellow in Mathematics and lead author of the study, said: “While there does appear to be a link between a wavier jet stream and Arctic warming in year-to-year and decade-to-decade variability, there has not been a long-term increase in waviness in response to the rapidly warming Arctic.”

Scientists have studied whether the jet stream’s meandering course across the Northern Hemisphere is amplified by climate change in recent years.

For about two decades, the jet stream — a powerful band of westerly winds across the mid-latitudes — was observed to have a “wavier” flow, which coincided with greater Arctic warming through climate change.

These waves have caused extreme weather conditions to strike mainland Europe and the US, bringing intense cold air that leads to extreme cold weather.

In this new study, Dr. Blackport and Professor Screen studied not only climate model simulations but also the observed conditions going back 40 years.

They found that the previously reported trend toward a wavier circulation during autumn and winter has reversed in recent years, despite continued Arctic amplification.

This reversal has resulted in no long-term trends in waviness, in agreement with climate model simulations, which also suggest little change in “waviness” in response to strong Arctic warming.

The results, the scientists say, strongly suggest that the observed and simulated link between jet stream “waviness” and Arctic temperatures do not represent a causal effect of Arctic amplification on the jet stream.

Professor Screen, an Associate Professor in Climate Science at Exeter added: “The well-publicized idea that Arctic warming is leading to a wavier jet stream just does not hold up to scrutiny.

“With the benefit of ten more years of data and model experiments, we find no evidence of long-term changes in waviness despite ongoing Arctic warming.”

Insignificant effect of Arctic amplification on the amplitude of mid-latitude atmospheric waves is published in Science Advances.

Reference: “Insignificant effect of Arctic amplification on the amplitude of midlatitude atmospheric waves” by Russell Blackport and James A. Screen, 19 February 2020, Science Advances.
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aay2880

1 Comment on "Pioneering New Research Disputes “Wavier” Jet Stream Due to Arctic Warming"

  1. This paper misses the point. It is irrelevant if the meandring jet stream that is now increasingly observed is the cause of the Arctic warming, or the other way round. Such a distinction does not make sense in a closely interlinked system. What is relevant – and most important – is whether the observed changes are linked to external forcings – the factors we can control. These forcings could be atmospheric emissions – CO2, methane, aerosols etc. A secondary question is if the observed trends can be replicated in models, so that future changes can be predicted for a variety of scenarios. Unfortunately, the paper does not address any of them.

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