Wildfires On The Ground and Smoke Up In The Sky (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla)
Hundreds of wildfires are burning across Northwest Canada, particularly in British Columbia and Saskatchewan. The fires have spread smoke southward, across the U.S., causing air quality to deteriorate, and producing reddish sunsets from the Midwest to the Southeast.
The fires have been so intense and so numerous that Canada has appealed for international assistance, with firefighters coming to the country from as far away as Australia and Mexico.
According to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre, more than 4,500 individual fires have already burned, which is an unusually high figure so early in the year. A total of 2.7 million acres have already gone up in smoke. Wildfires have also been a major problem in Alaska.
A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellite captured these circulations in a Canadian wildfire smoke plume, which was crossing the border on Friday morning over Montana. The National Weather Service office in Glasgow, Montana, posted images on Facebook. (Wildfire smoke, July 10, 2015. more here and here)
As air flows throughout the atmosphere atmospheric waves are often generated describing the dynamic behaviour of a fluid. Accordingly, those patterns are quite similar to ripples in a pond or eddies in a river. But furthermore, if the flow is laminar (like straight hair) or turbulent (curly hair), it can also give us indirect information about the thermal conditions (stability, etc) and homogeneity in the composition (water vapour… ) of the air. And changes in those visual patterns usually help to locate “factors” generating weather events (e.g. weather fronts, cyclonic circulation and adiabatic processes). Those can be when two or more different (thermally or water content dry/humid) masses of air get in contact or even when orographic features interfere with tropospheric circulation inducing changes in those air masses due to e.g. changes in pressure and thermal gradients in altitude.
Some of those waves are visible thanks to the condensation of water but most often those waves are invisible. However, similarly as with experiments in a wind tunnel aimed to observe aerodynamic behaviours, here the smoke from fires allows us to see patterns in atmospheric circulation which we might not see otherwise.
In particular, in the following image from Aqua Satellite, we can see how the mass of air being generated by the fires interact with the Jet Stream at 250 hPa moving West to East over the North American continent and into the Atlantic Ocean.
The 10th of July, the same day that the previous satellite images caught the smoke from Canadian wildfires in atmospheric circulation, I was looking at the state of the overheated atmosphere in Southern Europe. Among other resources I was looking at the real time images being broadcast by the International Space Station (there is a link and video streaming on the right side of this blog). During its fly over the North Atlantic (from west to east) the ISS had operational the camera facing backwards. The next image shows the state of the atmosphere over the North west Atlantic where we can see the grey trail of smoke getting spread in a wide whirlpool at stratospheric circulation.
Interferences with the Jet Stream
I believe that the previous images offer a vivid illustration of how easily plumes of air being generated over land, containing diverse composition of gases and aerosols (in this case COx and ashes from the combustion of wood), get introduced high in atmospheric circulation.
In the actual times, the relevance of such assessment is a matter of open discussion. Some points of view defend that the atmosphere can take almost everything that activities overland might generate without the patterns followed in global atmospheric circulation suffering any major alteration over time. Personally, based on my limited knowledge, I do not see it as an accurate point of view.
Actually, in climatology, one point of view adopted by many is based on that natural variability force us to have to consider periods of at least 30 years in order to define changes of global climate relevance. Such posture allows to consider extreme and unseasonal weather events as part of natural variability, and they will only become relevant if they persist in time over a 30 years period.
So, this posture opens for me some questions.
In environmental science, the scientific approaches applied to analyse patterns and settle laws, are based on repetition. Accordingly, the link between cause and causation is only proved when it is allowed its replicability, either by artificial means (experiments) or by observation. So it is prioritised the number of repetitions over any other approach. And the repetitions have to describe the same events following the same steps in the same chronological order.
In a past scientific project I led a study looking into the aerodynamic behaviour of pollen grains of different types. Subsequently I performed several experiments in a controlled environment (wind tunnel). Having control over the environment (wind speed, temperature and humidity) allowed me to replicate several times specific conditions under which to capture those particles when they were airborne. That was necessary to demonstrate that pollen types with different morphology and size behave differently as a result of their aerodynamic characteristics.
In climatology, however, the environment in which we observe events happening has not controlled parameters. Therefore, it is a challenge to find climatic events which can be profiled as “similar” in order to be compared as repetitions defining a pattern. But, even understanding such dilemma, here is where I see that there are some limitations in the scientific approach applied due to its narrow capabilities.
In one hand, narrow capabilities derived from the conflict between the concept of natural variability and replicability.
Both terms play opposite roles in environmental developments. One introduces the unsettling feeling of unpredictable constant changes as a natural pattern meanwhile the other looks for settling rules dictating predictable outcomes. And yet, they both share in common the fact that for something to happen, there must be a confluence of many variables in the right order and proportionality. So even the existence of a single event, as much rare or brief as it can be, is the expression of a “real” scenario. And since it has happen and it has been observed, it is not longer a “possibility”.
Once the reality of this scenario to exist has been proven, it becomes a matter of concern to evaluate what is already different that allows for such scenario to exist. Just to use a similar idea. If NASA designs a protocol to launch a vehicle and finds the existence of one single unpredicted “glitch” at any time when following trials, this carries the concept of “reality” for unpredicted events to happen. In another words, the system is “unstable”.
From this analytical approach, one single event, which is not enough to represent a statistical value, becomes the representation of a scenario only possible by the confluence of multi-variables. Therefore, its own existence makes it statistically representative of a statistically meaningful number of variables, magnitudes of those and location.
In other hand, when we look at climatic events, here the challenge comes from when we try to isolate “events” in order to create a value of “Frequency” and standard mean and deviation.
- One example comes from when considering heat waves. At the present time the South of Europe is suffering what it can be called a “persistent” heat wave. Since the consistency of this event is getting prolonged in time, it might be considered as just one event over 14 days. However, if in a different year you have high temperatures in periods of 3 days separated by just one day, we could count 3 heat waves. And we can have a different interpretation over what they represent. A single scenario for which its reality is becoming increasingly feasible under the present circumstances, or isolated events to be counted separately?
Heat waves have the particularity of behaving as drops of a fluid or waves at the coast. They can behave independently, or they can coalescence and become a tide of heat. And that is what it looks like it is happening in the South of Europe (e.g. Spain).
Weather is considered as a contained event in time and location. It seems to me that Climate is being treated like trying to know when somebody is an adult, not based on attitude, but age.
If based on natural variability it is required that our environment has to have changed already in order for us to identify that it is changing, I see a limitation in the methodology which can originate many problems in the near future.
I believe that instrumental methodologies as well as biological indicators all over the world, inland and at the Oceans, are showing many symptoms of a change going on. And, as we have seen at the beginning of this post, what happens at the surface of our planet is contributing to this change.
Here one example of looking at bio-indicators:
“Climate change impacts on bumblebees converge across continents.” Science 10 July 2015. Kerr et al.
Responses to climate change have been observed across many species. There is a general trend for species to shift their ranges poleward or up in elevation. Not all species, however, can make such shifts, and these species might experience more rapid declines. Kerr et al. looked at data on bumblebees across North America and Europe over the past 110 years. Bumblebees have not shifted northward and are experiencing shrinking distributions in the southern ends of their range. Such failures to shift may be because of their origins in a cooler climate, and suggest an elevated susceptibility to rapid climate change.
Abstract: For many species, geographical ranges are expanding toward the poles in response to climate change, while remaining stable along range edges nearest the equator. Using long-term observations across Europe and North America over 110 years, we tested for climate change–related range shifts in bumblebee species across the full extents of their latitudinal and thermal limits and movements along elevation gradients. We found cross-continentally consistent trends in failures to track warming through time at species’ northern range limits, range losses from southern range limits, and shifts to higher elevations among southern species. These effects are independent of changing land uses or pesticide applications and underscore the need to test for climate impacts at both leading and trailing latitudinal and thermal limits for species.
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(This post is part of a more complex piece of independent research. I don´t have founding, political agenda or publishing revenues from visits. Any scientist working in disciplines related with the topics that I treat in my blog knows how to judge the contribution that my work could potentially add to the state of knowledge. Since I am in transition looking for a position in research, if you are one of those scientists, by just acknowledging any value you might see from my contribution, would not only make justice to my effort as independent researcher, but ultimately, it will help me to enhance my chances to find a position with resources to further develop my work.
I believe that the hypothesis that I have presented in previous posts in this blog (here,here and here) could help to understand present and possible future scenarios in atmospheric circulation. However, this is an assessment based on observation which needs to be validated throughout open discussion and data gathering. So please feel free to incorporate your thoughts and comments in a constructive manner.
If you feel like sharing this post I would appreciate to have a reference about the place or platform, by private or public message, in order for me to have the opportunity to join the debate and be aware of the repercussion which might generate d.fdezsevilla(at)gmail.com)
For anybody interested in the posts related with this discussion here I leave you those more relevant in chronological order (there are comments bellow some of them. Please check them out):
- New theory proposal to assess possible changes in Atmospheric Circulation (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) Posted on October 21, 2014. http://wp.me/p403AM-k3
- Why there is no need for the Polar Vortex to break in order to have a wobbling Jet Stream and polar weather? (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) Posted on November 14, 2014. http://wp.me/p403AM-mt
- Gathering data to make visible the invisible (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) Posted on December 22, 2014. http://wp.me/p403AM-pN
- State of the Polar Vortex. Broken? From 29 Nov 2014 to 5th Jan 2015 (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla). Posted on November 29, 2014. http://wp.me/p403AM-o7
- Probability in the atmospheric circulation dictating the Weather (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) Posted on January 15, 2015. http://wp.me/p403AM-rm
- Meteorological Outlook Feb 2015 (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) Posted on February 7, 2015. http://wp.me/p403AM-sU
- Revisiting the theory of “Facing a decrease in the differential gradients of energy in atmospheric circulation” by Diego Fdez-Sevilla. Posted on February 10, 2015. http://wp.me/p403AM-to
- Matching Features Between Land Surface and Atmospheric Circulation (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla)April 23, 2015
- Drops of Weather. (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla)March 7, 2015
- Steering climate´s course (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla)March 27, 2015
- Climate. Looking at the forest for the trees (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla)April 9, 2015
- Matching Features Between Land Surface and Atmospheric Circulation (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla)April 23, 2015
- Domesticating Nature. (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla)May 7, 2015
- A roller-coaster of temperatures in South Europe. Spain (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) May 14, 2015
- Talking about climate (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) May 12, 2015
- News from an Ecosystem (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) May 20, 2015
- In climate it is becoming Less probable to not have a High probability. (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) May 29, 2015
- Drinking from the source (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) June 5, 2015
- Communication takes more than just publishing thoughts. (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) June 9, 2015
- Extreme climatic events, implications for projections of species distributions and ecosystem structure (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) June 18, 2015
- The scope of Environmental Science and scientific thought. From Thought-driven to Data-driven, from Critical Thinking to Data Management. (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) June 26, 2015
- Atmospheric Circulation and Climate Drift. Are we there yet? (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) July 2, 2015
- Lateral thinking. From Micro to Macro (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) July 4, 2015