Year of selection 2013
Institution UNIVERSITY OF ATHENS
Imagine the place you call home suddenly taking on a different climate. In just a few decades, veering towards dry and dusty, or perhaps damp and dripping. The consequences of such a change for the agriculture, industry and life around you could be huge. This is not a science fiction plot, but a potential climate scenario that Dr. Nikolaos Bakas is investigating. His work focuses on the jet stream, a giant river of air in the earth’s atmosphere whose winds carry storms along as they go. The jet stream’s position and shape affect the local climate of the regions in its path. But it also interacts with other components of Earth’s climate, and this has an impact on a global scale. Dr. Bakas has two big questions in mind: How sensitive is the jet stream; that is, could climate change cause a shift in its position? And, if so, would it happen gradually or suddenly be upon us?
Reconstructions of past climates have suggested the latter—significant changes to the jet stream occurring quickly—but no method existed to predict them. The trouble is that the motion of air in atmospheric flows is complex and chaotic. Attempting to calculate their every move would take years. Instead, Dr. Bakas has used statistics and a simplified model of the planet’s climate machine to approximate this system. In this less complex world, he found the jet stream was, indeed, thrown off balance by a warming climate, causing its structure to change. Bakas will now be able to take the equations representing atmospheric flows that he developed from this model and apply them to a more complex, Earth-like scenario. His results could add to global climate models the ability to predict sudden changes in the jet stream and their consequences. Such a change could impact the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, for example, as the jet stream contributes to the transfer of the greenhouse gas into the deep ocean. Thus, this river of air has the power to significantly affect global warming or cooling, making it a critical element of climate risk assessment and our preparation for the future.
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