The western portion of the United States has been experiencing extremely dry winter, so much so that states like California are already under a state of emergency regarding the reality of a severe drought. Now, scientists are ready to explain the circumstances that led to the drought, and they point to Pacific Ocean winds as the culprit.
According to News Discovery via a report published in the Journal of Climate, new research has found that the ocean depths have been warmer for the past two decades due to stronger trade winds. This strength of wind has forced warmth into the depths of the ocean waters, creating what is called a “false pause,” or “warming hiatus”.
“We know there’s a lot of natural variability in the (climate) system,” says Tom Delworth, a climate modeler at the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton. “It’s not surprising, but it’s important to understand mechanisms for this hiatus.”
According to Delworth’s work, the winds directed out of the east push warmer air across the Pacific Ocean. The air is eventually forced below the surface of the water, which of course heats the water itself. This means that normally cooler air is warmer than its standard.
2014 was the hottest year on record, according to research from Climate Central. Even more concerning is that there have been 13 of the hottest 15 years since the start of the new millennium. Some of that fact may be due to stronger equipment being used to record more precise measurements, however, it is clear that a warming trend is occurring.
The state of California has been hardest hit, with scientists stating that 92 percent of the harsh conditions the state is handling are due to these strong and warm trade winds.
Kevin Trenberth of the University Corporation of Atmospheric Researcher noted that it was important to factor in the dry winds in order to understand the drought conditions. Trenberth cited a study handled recently that showed the rising temperatures link specifically to drought conditions.
In the seemingly endless debate on whether or not humans have anything to do with atmospheric woes, Delworth stated that while human activity was not the focus of the study, it likely did play a part.
“It’s the ocean hiding the heat, which would normally warm the surface,” stated Ka-Kit Tung, who works at the University of Washington as a climate modeler.
She continued, “The question is which ocean and this paper is not fully answering that question.”