The links between a warmer climate and the dynamics of the Jet Stream, a powerful current of air that flows around the globe, have been extensively explored in recent scientific studies. Evidence suggests that the Jet Stream is becoming more wavy and meandering, leading to notable changes in temperatures, wind patterns and weather at different locations around the world. A deeper understanding of how climate change is affecting this important part of the atmosphere is essential in helping to protect our environment and ensure the safety of the global population.
The Jet Stream is a powerful ribbon of air that circles the earth at latitudinal levels of up to 20 km. It follows a roughly north-south alignment, occuring at higher altitudes and blowing in different directions depending on latitude. It is powered by the differences in heating between cold polar air and warmer tropical air, inducing wind speeds of up to 300 mph in some cases. The Jet Stream determines the flow of energy and moisture and hence influences the global climate.
Recent studies have shown that a warming climate is changing the dynamics of the Jet Stream. As air temperatures in the tropics rise, and cold air from the poles decreases, the atmosphere is becoming increasingly unstable. This leads to greater fluctuations in the Jet Stream, resulting in curved air paths which move away from their steadily north-south direction. This means that the Jet Stream does not simply blow in a linear fashion but instead meanders, leading to disruption in energy and moisture distribution resulting in anomalous and unpredictable weather remarkably distant from normal patterns.
The meandering, wavy nature of the Jet Stream has been linked to a range of natural disasters and catastrophic weather events, such as floods, heatwaves and droughts. For example, in 2017, the meandering of the Jet Stream brought extremely warm air to the Arctic Circle and caused the mercury to peak at over 20°C in some areas. This created unseasonably hot summer temperatures in Siberia and triggered a massive heatwave, over 350 wildfires, and intense smoke and haze.
At the same time, further south in Europe, the exceptionally wavy pattern of the Jet Stream was linked to an extended period of low pressure which prevented normal continental winds from developing. This caused temperatures to remain stable for an extended period of time and permitted ash from Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano to spread widely across the continent in 2010.
In addition to this, recent evidence suggests that meandering Jet Streams are also linked to extreme weather events such as drought, floods and excessive snowfall as the atmosphere moves between states of stability and turbulence. Warmer conditions have been linked to extreme weather events such as the drought in Australia and the floods in India.
The reverberations of the Jet Stream are most emphatically felt at the local level. For example, a meandering Jet Stream is believed to be the cause of the exceptionally dry summer of 2018 in the UK which led to water shortages and record-low rainfall levels.
As climate change progresses, the patterns of the Jet Stream could become even more unpredictable, carrying with it the potential of greater and more frequent weather extremes. The global population should be aware of how an altered Jet Stream might manifest and how local conditions may be affected in the future.
There are several steps which can be taken to mitigate the effects of a changing Jet Stream. Governments have started to prioritize a reduction in CO2 emissions and the implementation of alternative energy sources, in an effort to protect the environment and reduce harmful pollutants. Additionally, research and investment into strategies to predict more accurately the shifting patterns of the Jet Stream will help to establish better protection protocols and emergency response systems.
Ultimately, the effects of climate change on the Jet Stream are dependent on how global temperatures rise in the future. It is clear that we must act quickly and decisively to ensure that these changes are kept under control and that we are prepared to manage the significant weather-based implications that any imbalance in global temperatures could have.