Space & Innovation

Global Warming Kicks Up Record Pacific Trade Winds

The rapid warming of the Atlantic Ocean is producing intense Pacific trade winds -- and a temporary hiatus in warming surface temperatures.

Rapid warming of the Atlantic Ocean is "turbocharging" Pacific equatorial trade winds, according to new research. These are the strongest trade winds since recording began in the 1860s, according to scientists from the University of New South Wales and the University of Hawaii.

"The increase in these winds has ... amplified the Californian drought, accelerated sea level rise three times faster than the global average in the Western Pacific and has slowed the rise of global average surface temperatures since 2001," the study's authors report.

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The rapid warming of the Atlantic Ocean basin has created a surprising pressure difference between the Atlantic and Pacific, the researchers say. This difference has produced wind anomalies that cause the Pacific equatorial trade winds to intensify.

"We were surprised to find the main cause of the Pacific climate trends of the past 20 years had its origin in the Atlantic Ocean," co-lead author Shayne McGregor, from the University of New South Wales, said in a statement. "It highlights how changes in the climate in one part of the world can have extensive impacts around the globe."

Earlier research suggested the intensified trade winds were trapping heat from the air in the ocean, slowing the warming of global surface temperature.

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This pressure difference between the two ocean basins isn't expected to last. And as previous research reported, when it does end, a sudden acceleration of average temperature around the globe would likely occur.

"It will be difficult to predict when the Pacific cooling trend and its contribution to the global hiatus in surface temperatures will come to an end," co-author Matthew England said. "However, a large El Niño event is one candidate that has the potential to drive the system back to a more synchronized Atlantic/Pacific warming situation."

The effects of global warming are frequently projected decades into the future, but two recent reports -- one from the

U.S. Global Change Research Program

and the other

from the U.N.

-- put into sharp focus visible consequences of our warming planet. An increase in temperature, extreme weather, loss of ice and rising sea level are just a few of changes we can measure right now. Let's take a look at some of the most concerning trends.

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Glaciers are shrinking worldwide and permafrost is thawing in high-latitude and high-elevation areas, reports this year's Fifth Assessment Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

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Only a few extinctions are attributed to climate change, reports the IPCC, but climate change that occurred much more slowly, over millions of years, caused major ecosystem shifts and species extinctions. Land and sea animals are changing their geographic ranges and migratory patterns due to climate change.

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Sea level around the world has increased by about 8 inches since 1880, reports the 2014 National Climate Assessment, which projects a 1 to 4 foot rise by the end of the century.

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Excess CO2 is dissolving in the ocean and decreasing the pH of seawater. The ocean is about 30 percent more acidic than it was in pre-industrial times. More acidity in the oceans makes it harder for animals to form calcium carbonate shells and skeletons and erodes coral reefs.

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The probability of a Sandy-like storm deluging New York, New Jersey and other parts of the East Coast has nearly doubled compared to 1950, according to the American Meteorological Society. Even weaker storms will be more damaging now than they were 10 years ago because of rising sea levels. Superstorm Sandy cost the nation $65 billion, according to the 2014 National Climate Assessment, and 2012's Hurricane Isaac cost $2.3 billion.

The global sea level rises along with the temperature for two major reasons. For one, heat causes water to expand, which causes the existing water to take up more space and encroach on the coast. At the same time, ice at the poles and in glaciers melts and increases the amount of water in the oceans.

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Across the United States, heavy downpours are on the rise, especially in the Northeast and Midwest. Increases in extreme precipitation are expected for all U.S. regions, reports the 2014 National Climate Assessment.

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The most recent IPCC report states with "very high confidence" that current climate-related extremes like heat waves, droughts, floods, cyclones and wildfires are showing that countries around the world, at all development levels, are significantly unprepared. The American Meteorological Society estimates that approximately 35 percent of the extreme heat in the eastern United States between March and May 2012 resulted from human activities' effects on climate. The AMS warned that deadly heat waves will become four times more likely in the north-central and northeastern United States as the planet continues to warm.

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