Climate change is impacting major air currents that control extreme weather events, helping to power natural disasters like heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and floods in North America, Europe, and Asia, according to a new study published in the journal Scientific Reports.
The research, led by climate scientists at Pennsylvania State University and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, analyzed specific extreme weather events controlled by “planetary waves,” or patterns of wind such as the jet stream that circle the earth. As global temperatures rise, the scientists found, these wind currents slow down or wave dramatically. This can cause regular weather events to linger over a region, turning heavy rains into a flood or high temperatures into a heat wave.
“Human activity has been suspected of contributing to this pattern before, but now we uncover a clear fingerprint of human activity,” Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University and lead author of the research, told The Guardian.
The study is the latest in a growing field of research known as attribution science, which allows scientists to calculate the influence of global warming on specific weather events, such as whether rising temperatures made them more likely or more powerful.