Here in New England, home base for DP navigations, we have gyrated in recent days from weather conditions one would expect in mid-July two days ago to yet another “once-in-a-generation” Nor’easter snow dump. In Northern Europe, our correspondents report near-Arctic conditions, while in the Arctic scientists record temperatures a full thirty degrees above the norm.
All of this loopy, weird weather represents what climatologist Jason Box referred to in a recent interview as a “signature” of climate change:
The greenhouse effect has been enhanced by human burning of fossil fuels. That’s elevated atmospheric CO2 almost 50 percent now. OK, so that’s heating the planet. And it’s the Arctic that is warming at twice the rate of areas to the south as a consequence of this.
And there are feedbacks that allow the heat to stay in the Arctic. And when the sea ice, which has lost half of its thickness in the last 50 years, moves away from the shore, we have an ocean surface that is about 30 degrees Celsius warmer than the surface would otherwise be of the ice. That releases heat into the atmosphere. And there’s something called the lapse rate feedback, which allows that heat to get trapped near the surface in the atmosphere. It allows it to warm up further.
So, there’s an interaction between the loss of Arctic sea ice that’s been retreating—it’s now at record low, it’s about the area of Alaska below its average—the interaction of that heat release with warming in the lower atmosphere, that reinforces the slowdown of the jet stream, the polar vortex. They’re the same thing. And what’s normal is the jet stream, polar vortex, to have a circular shape around the Arctic. But the warmer it gets, the Arctic, the more wavy that structure becomes, and the jet stream starts to meander more. And those meanders, they get locked in. This is a signature of climate change, a more persistent wave pattern, which is now driving extra heat into the Arctic, that wasn’t possible before, and allowing more heat out.
Now comes philosopher Timothy Morton. In an essay contributed to the exceptional research/art organization Sonic Acts, Morton sketches the outlines of a well-riddled theory for our twisted present. An excerpt below, with a painting from the wonderfully weird imagination of Kristine Moran.