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  May 28, 2015

New Evidence Linking Climate Change to Extreme Weather

Professor Edward Hanna says there's mounting evidence extreme weather in the US and UK is connected to rising temperatures in the arctic
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Edward Hanna is a Professor in Climate Change at the Department of Geography, University of Sheffield. His research focuses on polar ice and climate change, and he has extensive experience in the use of meteorological and climate data in high-latitude regions. Hanna is Co-Principal Investigator of a current University of Sheffield project investigating northern hemisphere polar jet stream changes with the UK Met Office Hadley Centre, and also has active collaborations with the Danish Meteorological Institute and Icelandic Meteorological Office. He is an Editor of The Cryosphere and has been an Editorial Board member of Weather. Hanna contributed as a lead and contributing author to the Arctic Report Cards of 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013 & 2014 of NOAA, is a regular invitee and organiser of international workshops on high-latitude climate and ice-sheet changes, and is the WCRP CliC representative and recent Co-Chair of ISMASS (the CliC-sponsored Expert Group on Ice Sheet Mass Balance and Sea Level). He is a Contributing Author of the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report.


JAISAL NOOR, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.

Linking climate change and severe weather is nothing new, but now there's growing evidence that the warming arctic is helping fuel severe weather conditions in part of the Northern Hemisphere. And while experts say it's too soon to say if the exceptionally stormy 2013-2014 winter which was marked by historic rains, snowfalls, and floods from the East Coast of the U.S. to the United Kingdom can be linked to this, they warn that such trends may be becoming the norm. The Arctic is warming two to three times faster than areas south of it, and others have warned this has helped stall cold weather patterns over areas like the Eastern seaboard and Midwest United States, contributing to extreme weather.

Now joining us to discuss all of this is Professor Edward Hanna. He's at the Department of Geography at the University of Sheffield. He is among the group of scientists who has investigated the link between the Arctic climate change and extreme weather.

Thank you so much for joining us.


NOOR: So as you well know, this link between extreme weather and climate change, it's been observed and it's been studied for years now. What's new about this study that you've just released?

HANNA: It's certainly true that there's been an increase in the amount of interest in research into this topic in the last year or two, an explosion of inquiries. But of course a lot of the amplified Arctic warming and losses of ice that have occurred have been really accelerated in the last five to ten years. So there's a wealth of new data available to analyze just within the last year or two, and also improved computer model simulations of global and regional climate change as well, also helpful in this respect.

What's new about our particular study is that we're really zeroing in on some of the regional aspects of these links between the Arctic climate change, the amplified Arctic warming, and the extreme weather in the mid-latitudes, whereas many of the previous studies tend to have had a broader brush approach of looking at the whole hemisphere.

NOOR: And so why should people specifically living in these areas, like you and I, why should we be concerned?

HANNA: Well, because I think the climate is clearly a very complex system. But one aspect of the amplified warming that we've recently seen in the Arctic regions is that it can disturb the jet stream patterns that affect mid-latitude extreme weather further south in very densely populated continents, including North America and densely populated parts of Europe and going further east into Russia and Asia, for example. So it is of concern to potentially hundreds of millions of people. I think that changes in these weather patterns can be linked at times and in particular regions to some of the Arctic warming that we've been experiencing.

NOOR: And can you talk about whether there's an expectation of an increase in the frequency of such events?

HANNA: Do you mean the extreme weather events in--.

NOOR: Yes, the extreme weather events, yeah. Can we expect to see more of those?

HANNA: Well, I think the research is still at a fairly early stage. But we have seen, as we just discussed, some very strong warming recently in the Arctic, which is linked with sea ice losses. And this does appear to disturb--be one of the factors that's disturbing the jet stream, which can affect weather conditions further south. So it's certainly possible that we could see at times and in certain regions, such as the east of the U.S. and over Siberia and further east into Asia, as well as in parts of northwest Europe, at times an increase in extreme weather events relating to some of the Arctic changes.

Now, it won't be all the time, because there's a lot of effects on the jet stream and the weather systems further south of the Arctic. But certainly it's a possibility.

NOOR: And can you talk about why people should be concerned about the increased variability of the jet stream and high pressure patterns over Greenland and across North America?

HANNA: The changes in Greenland, which of course is relatively little populated itself, are intimately linked with changes in the jet stream patterns further west over North America and further east over northern Europe, where of course there's hundreds of millions of people living. So this, these changes, they're all linked at the hemispheric scale.

So if you affect these key regions, for example if you increase the warming over Greenland, this can increase the amount of high pressure there, or how severe that high pressure is. And that acts as a kind of a block, like a stone in a river, to the jet stream. The meandering jet stream can get affected as a result and influence weather conditions further east and west.

NOOR: And in your opinion, what sort of policy stances should governments be taking? I did some reporting after superstorm Sandy devastated areas of New York City. And after that you started to see at least cities and local governments taking some--or at least planning for an increased frequency of these type of events. Do you think--do you think governments are doing enough? And can they be doing more, should they be?

HANNA: I think clearly it's a challenging issue. It's the job of us scientists to communicate to policymakers and public, so obviously people can decide more [world widely]. But my personal opinion is that governments can be doing more than they currently are. But that also relies on individuals to, both individually and collectively, to also be more concerned about some of these very rapid, recent changes in climate conditions in the Arctic that may have links with extreme weather further south. And certainly we've seen some very large changes in climate generally recently that do lead for cause for concern that we need to take more action at the both individual and collective levels, in my opinion.

NOOR: Well, thank you so much for joining us.

HANNA: Thank you very much.

NOOR: And thank you for joining us at The Real News Network.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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