Photograph: LM Otero/AP Last modified on Wed 17 Feb 2021 01.02 EST Sign up for the Guardian's Green Light newsletter Associating climate change, normally connected with roasting heat, with an unusual winter storm that has crippled swaths of Texas and brought freezing temperatures across the southern US can seem counterintuitive. But scientists say there is evidence that the rapid heating of the Arctic can help push frigid air from the north pole much further south, possibly to the US-Mexico border. This week, a blast of winter weather has reached deep into the heart of the US, causing several deaths and knocking out power for about 5 million people. Sleet and ice have battered Oklahoma and Arkansas, while many people in Texas have been left marooned, amid unsafe travel conditions, in homes with no electricity. “The current conditions in Texas are historical, certainly generational,” said Judah Cohen, the director of seasonal forecasting at Atmospheric and Environmental Research . “But this can’t be hand-waved away as if it’s entirely natural. This is happening not in spite of climate change, it’s in part due to climate change.” Last year, Cohen co-authored a paper that found a strong uptick in winter storms in the US north-east in the decade leading up to 2018. This, Cohen and some other scientists argue, is a symptom of heating in the Arctic, occurring at a rate more than twice the global average, that is disrupting long-established climatic systems. Cold air is normally concentrated around the north pole in the polar vortex, an area of low pressure that circulates in a tight formation in the stratosphere during winter. This rotation is likened by scientists to a spinning top, one that can meander if it is interfered with. This interference, researchers say, is occurring through changes to the jet stream, a band of strong winds that wraps around the globe at lower elevations than the polar vortex. The warming of the Arctic, it is thought, is causing the jet stream to shift. “The energy escaping from the jet stream bangs into the polar vortex so it starts to wobble and move all over the place,” said Cohen. “Where the polar vortex goes, so goes the cold air.” This phenomenon has shown itself to a dramatic degree over the past month, with a splitting of the polar vortex helping cause huge flurries of snow in Europe as well as record cold temperatures in parts of the US more accustomed to milder winters. “I’d say the situation this winter is consistent with research that has connected what’s happening in the Arctic with extreme weather patterns in the mid latitudes,” said Jennifer Francis, a senior scientist at Woodwell Climate Research Center who has studied the issue . “The polar vortex can elongate, stretch into different shapes and even split.https://www.theguardian.com/science/2021/feb/17/arctic-heating-winter-storms-climate-change
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Gavin Schmidt, an expert in climate modeling, will help ensure the Biden Administration has crucial data to inform its emissions reduction goals Gavin Schmidt, a high-profile scientist, is NASA's new climate adviser. Credit: NASA NASA announced yesterday that Gavin Schmidt, an expert in climate modeling, will become the space agency's first senior climate adviser. The new NASA position underscores the Biden administration's push to integrate climate policy throughout the federal government. Schmidt, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, will serve in an acting role until he receives a permanent appointment, agency officials said. “The appointment of Gavin Schmidt will help ensure that the Biden Administration has the crucial data to implement and track its plan toward the path to achieve net-zero emissions economy-wide by 2050, and a healthier, safer, more prosperous planet for our children,” said acting NASA Chief of Staff Bhavya Lal in a statement. Schmidt said in an interview with E&E News that he plans to use the position to incorporate science into policymaking and to educate the public on climate change. “It's a point person who can kind of draw all the strings together and have them be available for the rest of the administration's climate push and for the public as well,” he said. “There's a number of things that the administration has asked the agency to do climatewise, I imagine, that will be in my purview.” While the early days of the administration have seen an expansive focus on climate policy, Biden has not yet named a NASA administrator nor a head for NOAA, the nation's two premiere science agencies. Schmidt, who has a doctorate in applied mathematics from University College London, is an expert in the modeling of past, current and future climate conditions. He has authored or co-authored more than 150 peer-reviewed papers. Schmidt was often a target of Trump allies who did not like his outspoken advocacy for climate research. NASA, however, was one of the few areas of the federal government where climate research was largely left alone by the Trump administration. NASA uses more than two dozen satellites and scientific instruments to observe and track key climate data, according to the agency. In his new role, Schmidt will be expected to communicate the agency's research with the public and policymakers, and to work with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Office of Management and Budget. Schmidt's appointment will help the Biden administration develop the scientific backing to carry out its plan to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, Lal said. “The complexities of climate processes still are not fully understood, and climate adaptation and mitigation efforts cannot succeed without robust climate observations, data and research,” Lal said. Science can offer more than just information about rising carbon emissions and the need to mitigate them, Schmidt said. For example, there is room to broaden NASA's research, to explore the co-benefits and consequences of water resources and crop yields, he said. Schmidt said there is still plenty to be done in improving climate science “in the service of making better decisions.” “Policies can't be implemented in a vacuum, and you want to be able to make policy choices in the light of the best science that tells you what the consequences of those choices are going to be,” Schmidt said. Reprinted from E&E News with permission from POLITICO, LLC. Copyright 2021. E&E News provides essential news for energy and environment professionals.https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/nasa-names-its-first-climate-advisor/