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November 26, 2019


They can cause heat waves, droughts and downpours. Now scientists have found stalled high-pressure systems will get bigger due to climate change.

Credit: National Science Foundation/Karson Productions

Up on blocks.

I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files, from the National Science Foundation.

Climate change may or may not be affecting the frequency of stalled high-pressure systems known as 'blocks' -- that stay in place for days or weeks. They occur in middle latitudes and can cause (Sound effect: heat riff) massive heatwaves or (Sound effect: chill wind) deadly cold snaps, devastating droughts or (Sound effect: heavy rain, thunder) destructive downpours. Findings of a comprehensive Rice University study give us a better understanding of just how large the area of future atmospheric blocks may be.

Studies have focused on how often these events occur. This one deals with the size of future events.

The researchers say due to climate change, the area of blocking events in the northern hemisphere could grow by as much as 17 percent. Potentially causing more extreme conditions affecting more people. The team crunched climate simulation data for thousands of scenarios to arrive at a scaling law -- a formula that relates the area of blocking events to the width, latitude and strength of the jet stream.

In climate model simulations their scaling law was able to predict changes in the size of future winter blocking events with remarkable accuracy. For some reason, it's better at winter blocks. Future studies will focus more on summer ones.

Who knew you could learn so much about the effects of climate change (Sound effect: wood blocks) just by playing with blocks?

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