WAKE FOREST, N.C., January 26, 2014 – The proponents of global warming and climate change are desperate. They are scrambling to explain why the United States is in the grip of one of its coldest winters in decades. Expeditionary ships trapped in the most extensive Antarctic ice pack on record don’t help global warming alarmists, either. Ironically, one reason those ships traveled to the Antarctic was to chronicle the melting, and presumably disappearing, Antarctic ice pack.
Instead, these ‘scientists’ had to be rescued by icebreakers called in to dislodge them from their frozen expedition.
The global climate change crowd is running out of propaganda ammunition in the face of atmospheric events they are unable to explain. In order to deflect attention from mounting evidence against global warming, a new and sensational theory, the polar vortex, is being offered as proof of something. The polar vortex, they claim, is wreaking havoc by setting cold air masses in motion in abnormal fashion.
Let’s examine the polar vortex argument, and compare that theory with known, empirical atmospheric science. To quote an argument that explains our cold winter in terms of the polar vortex:
“The Polar Vortex … is the low pressure system (vortex) that sits in the North Pole (polar) and holds cold air up. When the vortex is weakened, cold air tends to flow south. This is also known as the negative Arctic Oscillation.”
Take these elements one-by-one:
The polar vortex is a low pressure system that sits on the North Pole. This is false. The arctic region, which covers the North polar ice cap, is dominated by a large scale surface high pressure system that is semi-permanent and exists nearly year round. In fact, this high pressure gets stronger each winter and weakens during the summer. The “low pressure” feature in this polar vortex argument is a geopotential low height system that is nearly always present above the coldest core of the surface high pressure system.
Large domes of surface cold air have a marked and relatively warm upper troposphere. The center of the upper low (geopotential height) of the upper troposphere is (relatively) warm because it is closer to the surface of the earth. Look at it this way: Where air is coldest, the atmosphere shrinks and extends vertically to a lesser height.
That’s why the low-height-center is found above the surface (cold) high pressure.
The depictions of upper level highs and lows above sea level are relative comparisons of HOW HIGH (or low) you have to go above sea level to reach a certain (geopotential) height, which corresponds to standard, mandatory levels. In the above illustration, the line shown as the “5,000 ft. pressure level” corresponds to a standard pressure level of 850 millibars (850 mb).
The depiction clearly shows that if an aircraft wants to maintain a level at 850 mb, the actual height above sea level will get lower as it moves from warm air towards colder air. This illustration is overly simplistic, and is only shown to underscore the change in how high the atmosphere extends vertically due to corresponding low level temperatures.
So if you look at a 500 millibar (500 mb) chart, the lines depict how high you must go above sea level (in meters) to reach 500 mb. If you are over cold air, the atmosphere would not extend as high in the vertical, and thus you would show a LOWER height for 500 mb over that spot. By contrast, where the air is warmer, you have to go to a HIGHER level to reach the 500 mb level, and the geopotential height would show a higher level over that spot.
This system holds cold air up. Again, this statement is false. Basic meteorology illustrates that warm air rises and cold air sinks. The colder, more dense air will always seek equilibrium by sinking towards the surface. Atmospheric physics defies the notion of any process holding cold air up. Such a description is tantamount to atmospheric instability, which cannot be maintained for any appreciable period of time.
When the vortex is weakened, the cold air tends to flow south. This statement attributes the correct motion with the wrong reasoning.
The supposed (and presumed) “heating” of the stratosphere is a non sequitur. This is because there is a natural and scientific separation between the troposphere and stratosphere: the tropopause. This is a boundary that is caused by an inversion that occurs as the vertical column of atmosphere (measured from the surface upward) approaches a relatively warm region in the upper stratosphere.
This warm region is produced by the absorption of ultraviolet radiation (from the sun) by the ozone layer. The resulting inversion acts like a LID over the troposphere.
Even the tops of thunderstorms stop growing vertically and stratify (i.e.: spread out) in the form of an anvil when they reach the tropopause. Only tremendous energy produced by severe thunderstorms would enable an intrusion from the troposphere through the tropopause and into the stratosphere.
Some of the proponents of the Polar Vortex and global warming/climate change show what seem to be very impressive infrared imagery that shows stratospheric heating and radical temperature fluctuations.
This too is a figurative sleight of hand because unsuspecting observers are not made fully aware of what they think they are looking at. The global warming crowd has theorized that the polar vortex is affected by warm tropospheric air merging upward into the stratosphere. It is simply not possible apart from the aforementioned severe thunderstorm exception.
This brings us to the process that initiates moving (advecting) cold air masses. There are 12-15 “initiators” of the push behind cold airmasses (termed short waves) in each hemisphere. These systems move along the Arctic frontal boundary (separating arctic airmasses from polar Airmasses) or the Polar frontal boundary (separating polar airmasses from subtropical airmasses). The cold airmasses (either Polar or Arctic) are set in motion based on atmospheric interactions of these short waves in the 3-dimensional.
When a cold high pressure starts moving out of its source region it becomes what is known as a dynamic high pressure system. The cold push behind a cold front is always, repeat, always dynamic. In fact, the cold surface high pressure systems can all be tracked and transition as follows:
- Cold high, becoming –
- Dynamic high (as it moves in response to an upper level short wave), and the cold air (warmed from beneath) is modified and eventually absorbed into the subtropical region, characterized by a –
- Warm high surface marked by a high, (relatively) cold upper troposphere.
When you are trying to make up things as you go along, you must use superficial known facts that are embellished by a Niagara of words to obscure the truth. Forget about a Polar Vortex spawning cold outbreaks; the concept violates the tenants of basic meteorology.
Such rationale is a smoke and mirrors fabrication produced by sesquipedalian gymnastics.
Bill Randall is a retired military atmospheric science professional, having taught meteorological and oceanographic fundamentals at the consolidated weather course (under the Air Training Command) for the U.S. Dept. of Defense and foreign exchange military students. He has also provided global support for military operations (meteorological & oceanographic forecasts), and served as Staff Meteorologist for Commander, U.S. Sixth Fleet during operations Desert Shield/Desert Storm. His environmental support background spanned over 25 years, and his expertise is held in high regard by peer professionals.