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Biodiversity: Feds propose critical habitat designations in marine areas for endangered loggerhead sea turtles

Loggerhead sea turtle. Photo courtesy NOAA/Marco Giuliano.

Loggerhead sea turtle. Photo courtesy NOAA/Marco Giuliano.

Proposal would protect some breeding areas and migration routes

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Along with proposed critical habitat protection for nesting areas, loggerhead sea turtles may also get some open-ocean sanctuaries, including nearshore reproductive habitat, breeding areas, and migratory corridors.

The National Marine Fisheries Service this week proposed critical habitat designation for 36 occupied marine areas for the Northwest Atlantic Ocean population of loggerheads, and may consider additional areas with foraging habitat, as well as  two large areas that contain Sargassum habitat. The proposed areas span waters off the coast of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama and Mississippi. See the full proposal here. Continue reading

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European forecasters look to NAO for climate clues

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Seasonal shifts in the North Atlantic Oscillation have a strong effect on European weather.

New study helps track seasonal shifts in North Atlantic storm track

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Just as weather forecasters in the western U.S. look at El Niño and La Niña to help get a handle on season outlooks, European meteorologists are carefully analyzing the North Atlantic Oscillation for climate clues. The job is easier in some years, according to a new study carried out by the National Oceanography Centre.

The research shwoed that the relationship between our winter weather and the strength of the airflow coming in from the Atlantic – one of the factors used by forecasters to predict the weather – is stronger in some years than others. The results were recently published in the Royal Meteorological Society publication Weather.

“There are two major atmospheric pressure systems centred around Iceland and the Azores that are very influential for the weather in Europe. Air flows between these two systems, bringing mild air from the North Atlantic to Europe,” said co-authors Joël Hirschi and Bablu Sinha from the National Oceanography Centre. Continue reading

Climate: Parts of western Atlantic reach record-high temps

NOAA documenting shift in marine species as water warms

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Looking down the East Coast from Cape Cod toward Long Island from the International Space Station. Visit this NASA Earth Observatory page for more information.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — With sea surface temperatures at a 150-year high off off the mid-Atlantic and New England coastlines, scientists are document significant shifts in the distribution of commercially important marine species, with as-yet uncertain consequences for the entire ecosystem.

Those temperatures reached a record high of 57.2 degrees in 2012, exceeding the record high set in 1951. The average sea surface temperatures in the region — extending from the Gulf of Maine to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina — has typically been lower than 54.3 degrees during the past three decades, according to a NOAA advisory. Continue reading

Arctic ‘hurricanes’ may alter climate change models

Arctic storm, global warming, climate change

These polar storms can have hurricane-strength winds and are common over the polar North Atlantic, but are missing from climate prediction models due to their small size. Photo courtesy of NEODAAS Dundee Satellite Receiving Station.

Climate scientists advocate for more study of mesoscale Arctic weather systems

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Intense, hurricane-like Arctic storms may play a bigger role in driving climate than previously thought, and most climate models have not included those effects in long-term projections, according to a new study from he University of East Anglia and the University of Massachusetts.

Adding the storms into the mix could change the long-term outlook, as the models currently may underestimate the amount of heat being transported toward Europe.

“By simulating polar lows, we find that the area of the ocean that becomes denser and sinks each year increases and causes the amount of heat being transported towards Europe to intensify,” Condron explained.

“Before polar lows were first seen by satellites, sailors frequently returned from the Arctic seas with stories of encounters with fierce storms that seemed to appear out of nowhere,” said Alan Condron, a physical oceanographer at UMass Amherst Condron,. “Because of their small size, these storms were often missing from their weather charts, but they are still capable of producing hurricane-force winds and waves over 11 meters high (36 feet).”

“The fact that climate models are not simulating these storms is a real problem … Because these models will wrongly predict how much heat is being moving northward towards the poles. This will make it very difficult to reliably predict how the climate of Europe and North America will change in the near future.”

“These polar lows are typically under 500 km in diameter and over within 24-36 hours,” said Prof. Ian Renfrew, with the Univerity of East Anglia School of Environmental Sciences. said. “They’re difficult to predict, but we have shown they play an important role in driving large-scale ocean circulation.

“There are hundreds of them a year in the North Atlantic, and dozens of strong ones. They create a lot of stormy weather, strong winds and snowfall – particularly over Norway, Iceland, and Canada, and occasionally over Britain, such as in 2003 when a massive dump of snow brought the M11 to a standstill for 24 hours.

“We have shown that adding polar storms into computer-generated models of the ocean results in significant changes in ocean circulation – including an increase in heat traveling north in the Atlantic Ocean and more overturning in the Sub-polar seas,” he said. “At present, climate models don’t have a high enough resolution to account for these small-scale polar lows.

“As Arctic Sea ice continues to retreat, polar lows are likely to migrate further north, which could have consequences for the ‘thermohaline’ or northward ocean circulation – potentially leading to it weakening.”

“Climate models are always improving, and there is a trade-off between the resolution of the model, the complexity of the model, and the number of simulations you can carry out. Our work suggests we should put some more effort into resolving such storms,” Renfrew concluded.

Climate: Discussions raging on possible links between global warming and superstorm Sandy

Hurricane Sandy bearing down on the East Coast. Satellite image courtesy NOAA.

Record-breaking storm spurs more public awareness about the potential for more frequent extreme weather events

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — With several all-time weather records shattered and early estimates that Hurricane Sandy may cost the U.S. economy some $20 to $25 billion, it’s clear that the storm lived up to its billing. Along with the cleanup, there’s also a raging debate about whether global warming was a factor in the storm’s development and path.

On the one side, environmental activists seeking to limit heat-trapping greenhouse gases have jumped on the so-called super storm as an opportunity to tout their cause. On the other side, global warming deniers and others have pulled out timeworn statistics about past hurricanes that supposedly were equally as strong.

The arguments at the extreme sides of the spectrum don’t ring true. Of course, there is no way to scientifically prove that increases in air and ocean temps directly contributed to this storm. There’s still so much natural variability in nature that you just can’t establish a causal link. Continue reading

Study helps pinpoint East Coast sea level rise

Location of tide stations on the Atlantic coast of North America. Sea-level data for U.S. tide stations are collected and distributed by NOAA’s National Ocean Service.

Rate of increase is highest along the northeast coast

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Calculating sea level rise has been vexing for climate and ocean scientists. Melting ice and thermal expansion both contribute, but the water doesn’t just go up evenly like a bathtub that’s filling up.

Pinpointing the rate and location of sea level rise is critical for planners tasked with adapting their communities to coastal flooding, said John Boon, emeritus professsor at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

“Localized projections of sea-level rise are needed to guide the regional planning and adaptation measures that are being pursued with increasing urgency in many coastal localities,” said Boon, who recently completed a new study showing that the rate of sea level rise is increasing at tidal stations along the Atlantic coast of North America, including those in Norfolk, Baltimore, New York, and Boston. Continue reading

Global warming may intensify subtropical high pressure systems that shape northern hemisphere weather patterns

Gradients between land-surface and sea-surface heating could affect strength and location of Azores, North Pacific highs

The Azores High affects hurricane tracks and rainfall patterns in the Mediterranean and southeastern U.S. Graph courtesy NOAA

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — The big subtropical high pressure systems that already shape mid-latitude weather patterns to a large degree could become even bigger players on the global climate scene as they intensify under the influence of global warming, according to a new study led by Duke University researchers.

The study suggests that, as summertime near-surface high-pressure systems over the northern Pacific and Atlantic oceans strengthen, they could influence the occurrence of drought and extreme summer rainfall, in coming years.

The high pressure systems include the Bermuda, or Azores High, which dominates the south-central Atlantic Ocean in the summer. When it shifts westward, it can bring hot and dry conditions to the Southeast and central plains. It also affects the northward flow of summer monsoon moisture, as well as the path of hurricanes that often track along the Bermuda high’s southern edge, then move clockwise around its western periphery. Continue reading

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