Jet stream shift ‘could prompt harsher winters’

Updated 17 February 2014
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Jet stream shift ‘could prompt harsher winters’

CHICAGO: A warmer Arctic could permanently affect the pattern of the high-altitude polar jet stream, resulting in longer and colder winters over North America and northern Europe, US scientists say.
The jet stream, a ribbon of high altitude, high-speed wind in northern latitudes that blows from west to east, is formed when the cold Arctic air clashes with warmer air from further south.
The greater the difference in temperature, the faster the jet stream moves.
According to Jennifer Francis, a climate expert at Rutgers University, the Arctic air has warmed in recent years as a result of melting polar ice caps, meaning there is now less of a difference in temperatures when it hits air from lower latitudes.
“The jet stream is a very fast moving river of air over our head,” she said Saturday at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. “But over the past two decades the jet stream has weakened. This is something we can measure,” she said.
As a result, instead of circling the earth in the far north, the jet stream has begun to meander, like a river heading off course.
This has brought chilly Arctic weather further south than normal, and warmer temperatures up north. Perhaps most disturbingly, it remains in place for longer periods of time.
The United States is currently enduring an especially bitter winter, with the midwestern and southern US states experiencing unusually low temperatures.
In contrast, far northern regions like Alaska are going through an unusually warm winter this year. This suggests “that weather patterns are changing,” Francis said. “We can expect more of the same and we can expect it to happen more frequently.”
Temperatures in the Arctic have been rising “two to three times faster than the rest of the planet,” said James Overland, a weather expert with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Francis says it is premature to blame humans for these changes.
“Our data to look at this effect is very short and so it is hard to get very clear signal,” she said.
“But as we have more data I do think we will start to see the influence of climate change,” she said. The meandering jet steam phenomenon, sometimes called “Santa’s Revenge,” remains a controversial idea.
“There is evidence for and against it,” said Mark Serreze, director of the National Snowland Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado.
But he said rising Arctic temperatures are directly linked to melting ice caps.
“The sea ice cover acts as a lid which separates the ocean from a colder atmosphere,” Serreze told the conference.
But if the lid is removed, then warmth contained in the water rises into the atmosphere.
This warming trend and the shifting jet stream will have a dire impact on agriculture, especially in the farm-rich middle-latitudes in the United States.
“We are going to see changes in patterns of precipitation, of temperatures that might be linked to what is going on in the far north,” said Serreze.
Jerry Hatfield, head of the National Laboratory for Agriculture and Environment in the midwestern state of Iowa, warned that this is not a phenomenon that affects only the United States.
“Look around the world — we produce the bulk of our crops around this mid-latitude area,” he said.
The main impact on agriculture and livestock will not come from small temperature changes, but rather from temperature extremes and the weather patterns that hold them in place for longer periods of time.
Droughts and freezes are already having “a major impact on animal productivity, it influences meat production, milk and eggs production,” he said.


Indian workers dying on World Bank-backed tea plantations, say campaigners

Updated 34 min 5 sec ago
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Indian workers dying on World Bank-backed tea plantations, say campaigners

  • “The World Bank has utterly failed to exercise its leverage to address the CAO’s damning findings”
  • The IFC invested $7.8 million in the $87 million project, which aimed to create more than 30,000 jobs and promote shareholder ownership by workers

CHENNAI, India: At least seven workers have died in the last two years on Indian tea plantations that are partly financed by the World Bank, charities said on Friday in an official complaint.
Exploitation and poor working conditions persist after being exposed by a 2016 investigation by the Compliance Adviser Ombudsman (CAO), an accountability mechanism of the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC), the charities said.
The IFC and Tata Global Beverages in 2009 set up Amalgamated Plantations Private Limited (APPL), which is partly owned by workers and was intended to end labor abuses on plantations previously run by Tata in the northeastern state of Assam.
“Nine years on, we hear of tea workers who have died following work-related accidents, prolonged exposure to hazardous pesticides and lack of adequate medical care,” said Wilfred Topno of People’s Action for Development.
After the 2016 investigation, the IFC said it was working with APPL to improve conditions. But in their complaint to the CAO, the advocacy groups said not enough has been done.
“The World Bank has utterly failed to exercise its leverage to address the CAO’s damning findings,” said Anirudha Nagar, of the Accountability Counsel.
In an email, Tata rejected the allegations.
“We would like to clarify that the statement regarding alleged deaths of plantations workers at APPL is incorrect,” said company spokesman.
He added that APPL has been introducing measures to improve worker safety, including cutting back on pesticide use, providing protective gear and upgrading medical facilities.
The IFC also cited improvements, stating that a 2017 independent assessment report showed progress on all fronts, and said it was looking into the circumstances surrounding the deaths of workers.
“Any loss of life is tragic and our sympathies go out to those who lost beloved family members,” spokesman Aaron Shane Rosenberg told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an email.
In their complaint, the charities cited a 32-year-old worker who died after severing two fingers in a tea plucking machine and not receiving proper medical care, and a worker with tuberculosis who died while carrying pesticide cans.
“Workers are unable to afford the bare minimum necessities, let alone the cost of medical care, which is often necessary due to sub-standard care provided by APPL hospitals,” said Jayshree Satpute of the non-profit Nazdeek.
Tata Global Beverages — which owns Tetley, the second-largest tea brand in the world — has a 41 percent stake in APPL and the IFC owns 20 percent, with the remainder held by workers and smaller firms.
The IFC invested $7.8 million in the $87 million project, which aimed to create more than 30,000 jobs and promote shareholder ownership by workers.
When they formed APPL in 2009, Tata and the IFC made pledges that included increasing wages, providing adequate housing and health care for workers, improving sanitation and lowering exposure to pesticides.