Rising ocean temperatures in the Pacific are changing the West Coast's ...

Rising ocean temperatures in the Pacific are changing the West Coast's ...
Rising ocean temperatures in the Pacific are changing the West Coast's ...

Rising ocean temperatures in the Pacific are at the core of the West Coast's precipitation patterns, driving winter storms, and could wind up causing the climate of the Pacific Northwest and Southwest to switch, a new study suggests.

Researchers from Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Colorado have determined that ocean temperatures and not the planet's ice sheets, are 'directly responsible' for changing the North Pacific's atmosphere and the West Coast's precipitation patterns.

This happened during the Last Glacial Maximum, which occurred between 31,000 and 16,000 years ago and is currently happening now.

The changes are noteworthy given the fact it does not require an ice sheet to occur, the researchers said.

Rising ocean temperatures in the Pacific are causing changes to the West Coast's precipitation patterns

Rising ocean temperatures in the Pacific are causing changes to the West Coast's precipitation patterns

Similar to what happened during the Last Glacial Maximum, the climates of the Pacific Northwest and Southwest could switch

Similar to what happened during the Last Glacial Maximum, the climates of the Pacific Northwest and Southwest could switch

Scientists originally thought that during the Last Glacial Maximum, roughly 20,000 years ago, large ice sheets hovered over North America and these ice sheets caused the dramatic shift in the atmosphere's circulation.  

Given that Pacific Ocean temperatures and West Coast precipitation patterns are linked, it could mean there could be a 'dramatic change' in the West Coast climate in a relatively short period of time.

'It is distinctly plausible that we could get an ocean temperature pattern in the North Pacific that looks very much like what we saw during the Last Glacial Maximum,' the study's lead author, Dillon Amaya, added.

'This could lead to dramatic changes in West Coast hydroclimate over a relatively short period of time, like decades.'   

The changes do not require the presence of an ice sheet, as scientists previously thought

The changes do not require the presence of an ice sheet, as scientists previously thought

During the Last Glacial Maximum, large ice sheets hovered over North America that caused the dramatic shift in the atmosphere's circulation

During the Last Glacial Maximum, large ice sheets hovered over North America that caused the dramatic shift in the atmosphere's circulation

Amaya noted that although there is no change a nearly 2 mile tall (3 kilometers) ice sheet will appear 'suddenly' over North America, the modern climate 'can produce similar changes in North Pacific ocean temperatures that could temporarily swap the climates of the Southwest and the Pacific Northwest.' 

Scientists originally thought that during the Last Glacial Maximum, roughly 20,000 years ago, large ice sheets hovered over North America and these ice sheets caused the dramatic shift in the atmosphere's circulation.

'This study highlights the need for a holistic view of the climate system, especially when modeling its past and future behavior,' said coauthor and CIRES Fellow Kris Karnauskas in a statement

'Without accounting for the interaction between the atmosphere and ocean, you can end up with the right answer for the wrong reason, which is of course risky when you try to extrapolate that information to future concerns like freshwater availability.'

The study shows that

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