Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Arctic Jet Stream is Broken!

The Arctic Jet Stream was a constant and continuous ribbon of undulating wind which circled the globe near the boundary between the subarctic and temperate regions.  It was fueled, primarily, by the temperature differences between the Arctic air mass and temperate region air masses.  It also served to separate these air masses, keeping cold Arctic air in the Arctic and warmer temperate air masses in the temperate regions.  The simple fact of the Arctic Jet Streams existence regulated and stabilized the climates in Arctic, subarctic, and temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere.  Meanwhile the undulations in the Arctic Jet Stream were a predictable driving force in seasonal weather patterns.  As the undulations retreated warmer weather would follow, and when they dipped down into lower latitudes temperatures would drop.

The graphic below illustrates the continuous Arctic Jet Stream band as it existed, most likely throughout all of modern human history.  Please note that the undulation shown along the West Coast of the Western Hemisphere, is not where that particular undulation usually occurred.  An undulation in that position would have heralded extremely cold temperatures along the usually more temperate West Coast.  A more usual spot for that undulation would have been over the US States of Montana and North Dakota, as well as the Great Lakes region, and the Eastern US coast.

Graphic from Wikipedia’s Jet Stream page, where you can learn more about the Jet Stream as it was.

You have probably noticed, that I am speaking of the normal function of the Jet Stream in the past tense.  Unfortunately, its normal functioning is in the past, perhaps permanently.  The following graphic shows its configuration as it is often seen in today’s climate changed world.  Please notice that it has broken up into a bunch of different eddies, with large openings that allow cold Arctic air to move down into temperate zones, while at the same time allowing warm air to reach right into the heart of the Arctic.

From SFSU Jet Stream Page.  You can access real time images of the Jet Stream with a few clicks. 

The Jet Stream has broken up, because of atmospheric carbon loading and the resultant Arctic warming.  There is no longer enough temperature difference between the Arctic and the temperate regions to provide the energy needed to maintain that huge ribbon of wind.  And this means that large Arctic cold air masses and cold winds are flowing into temperate zones while large warm air masses and warm winds travel further north.  Our weather and our climates have become increasingly unpredictable.  As the warm air brings about further melting in the Arctic, this will continue.  Unpredictable weather, unfortunately, is not good for food production.

Most of the food produced and eaten here in the North American countries of Canada and the US is produced on large corporate farms using huge heavy machinery.  Heavy machinery cannot enter fields that have been drenched by unseasonable rain, whether to plant, tend, or harvest crops. Untimely winds can knock down growing and ripening grain and other crops, making it impossible to harvest by mechanical methods.  Further, large scale farming is not adaptable to drought conditions.  Mulching to maintain soil moisture, intercropping to shade the soil, and water catchment from homes and outbuildings, which are very effective strategies for gardens and small farms, do not work for large scale modern mechanized farming.  In addition, the genetic diversity that builds resiliency in gardens and small farm, does not work at all for large scale mechanized farming.  Corporate farms, in order to harvest crops by machine, need the crop to ripen all at once and to be uniform in height, and size; which necessitates there being as little diversity as possible.  Meanwhile, unseasonable warm or cold temperatures can encourage disease and pests, which are actually much easier to manage in small diverse settings.  When there is a sudden unexpected freeze, a gardener can harvest their crops and process them for storage; while everything may be a total loss on a large mechanized farm.  Freezing temperatures, early in the growing season, can also lead to a total crop loss for large mechanized farms.  The machinery used to plant crops is exceedingly expensive, and most farms, even very large farms, either lease the equipment or hire a contractor who owns the equipment. Schedules are tight, and retooling is done between types of crops.  If you loose your field, the planting equipment is now in a different part of the country planting other crops.  By contrast, small farmers and gardeners can replant; or the can interplant cool and warm season plants to begin with, letting the weather choose which will thrive.

Large scale mechanized agriculture depends on the weather being predictable.  The more unpredictable the weather becomes; the more food prices will rise, and the more severe food shortages will become.  Please see my post on ‘Food Riots,’ for more information our current and pending food crises, as well as a few tips on the small part you can play in helping to avert the worst case scenario.

It's time to learn to garden, even if you only have room for a five gallon pot.  Gardens are much more adaptable to changing weather and climate.  Gardening will help you become more food secure as climate change continues to interfere with large scale agriculture.  If you only have room for a five gallon pot, please see this post on ‘The Power of One Turnip Seed’ for an idea of where to start.     

If you have room to do a little gardening in your yard or at a community garden, you might want to consider starting a fall garden, if you haven’t already. In addition to the greens mentioned in the ‘Fall Greens’ post, most root vegetables can be planted in the fall as well.  If your weather turns out to be too cold for seeds to germinate, most of them will come up early in the spring, providing you with an early harvest next year.  

If you already garden, saving seed is a worthy endeavor.  By saving seeds from the plants you grow, you can select the very best your garden offers.  In addition, you can easily produce more seeds than you can use, and then trade that seed for other varieties or from seed from warmer and cooler regions to build genetic diversity in your own garden.  Learn more here:

For those who already save seeds, the idea of managing your plantings and seed saving efforts to maximize diversity may interest you.  I discuss this idea, briefly, in my book, ‘Food Security and Sustainability for theTimes Ahead.  Also discussed in the book, are the ideas of growing a balanced diet in the garden, growing basic herbs for self care, as well as immune system enhancers that you can grow.  The book is available on request from book stores and libraries as well as from many on-line book sellers.

Meanwhile, you may want to delve deeper into the relationship between people and seeds, the ancient history of gardening, as well as embracing some thoughts on maintaining your personal seed bank to foster as much genetic diversity as possible.  A SeedyPerspective,’ is a good place to begin exploring all these ideas.  

Gardening and saving seeds won’t put the broken Jet Stream back together again.  However, it will help reduce your carbon footprint, and provide some food security for you and those you love.  The more we can engage in producing our own food, the more food resilient we will be!


Typos, questions, tips?  Please feel free to leave a comment!


Copyright 2015, Harvest McCampbell, all rights reserved.  Please feel free to share.  Excerpting, reprinting or reposting by permission only.


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