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"Getting Wasted" -- The Discovery Files

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Scientists from NCAR, UCSD, Scripps and Florida State concluded that the heat generated by everyday activities in metropolitan areas alters the character of the jet stream and other major atmospheric systems.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

City heat.

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files--new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

A new study finds that heat generated by everyday activities in metropolitan areas affects temperatures across thousands of miles, warming some places, cooling others. The research was conducted by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego and Florida State.

This is not about the heat collected and re-radiated in urban areas by pavement and buildings (Sound effect: city traffic) but rather the waste heat produced by humans in our day-to-day lives. Actions like driving cars or heating buildings.

The team used computer models of the atmosphere and found that waste heat in major northern hemisphere cities interferes with the normal atmospheric circulation systems above them. The result: Winter warming across large areas of northern North America and northern Asia--up to nearly two degrees in some places. At the same time, these changes to atmospheric circulation cool certain areas of Europe.

The researchers say this effect may explain why some regions are experiencing more winter warming than projected by climate computer models. Seems no matter how far you live from what goes on in the big city, you may find yourself taking the heat.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's national science foundation. Federally sponsored research--brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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