Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Tourists chill out on tundra


Winds bring change to Alaskan winter.

A drop in wind speed may be boosting Alaska’s tourist trade. Some parts of the tundra feel five degrees warmer than they did 50 years ago, even though average winter air temperatures have risen only by one or two degrees since then, new research finds1. This local trend hints that forecasts of the impacts of climate change may need to account for wind as well as temperature.

The temperature can still plummet to -40 °C in winter, but wind chill in most parts of Alaska and western Canada has fallen, say Frank Keimig and Raymond Bradley, climate scientists at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.

Wind chill is a mathematical relationship between temperature and wind speed that describes the apparent temperature the body feels. Cool air carries heat away from the body; so to bare skin 0&176;C in a 30 mile an hour wind feels like -26&176;.

In most parts of Alaska and western Canada "it’s now a bit more comfortable in the winter months", says Keimig. The duo analysed winter wind speeds and air temperatures between 1953 and 1999 from 15 locations across Alaska and Canada.

Slightly higher temperatures and lower winds have pushed up the apparent temperature in most parts, they find. In some regions, lower winds alone are responsible for the warming. Winds in eastern and northern Canada have changed little, though, and temperatures here have actually fallen slightly since the 1950s.

Weather watchers in Fairbanks, deep in the frosty Alaskan interior, agree that Keimig and Bradley are on to something. "It is feeling warmer in Alaska," says Gerd Wendler, director of the Alaska Climate Research Center.

Measurements from Wendler’s institution also show lower wind speeds in the region. Wendler points out, however, that winter temperature increases have been getting smaller since about 1980, so the trend might not continue.

Whether or not Alaska’s falling wind is of global significance, it could well be affecting lifestyles in the region. There are more people outdoors, says Wendler: "Some winter tourism has even started over the past decade."

He’s cautious about jumping to conclusions, however. "How much of this was caused by the observed climatic change, and how much by improved outdoor gear and the increasing popularity of snowmobiles, is hard for us to judge," he says.

Model behaviour

Keimig and Bradley’s findings tell us little about climate in general, says Jean Palutikof of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in Norwich, England. "Wind chill is just about how you feel, not a physical measure of how the climate is doing," she says.

But for scientists who are interested in the impacts of climate change on life, the finding hints that potentially important trends, such as wind chill, may be getting overlooked. Most existing climate models cope well only with temperature data, says Palutikof; new models are being designed to account for how winds might change.

  1. Keimig, F. T. & Bradley, R. S. Recent changes in wind chill temperatures at high latitudes in North America. Geophysical Research Letters, published online (2002).

TOM CLARKE | © Nature News Service

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Ice shelf vibrations cause unusual waves in Antarctic atmosphere
25.10.2016 | American Geophysical Union

nachricht Enormous dome in central Andes driven by huge magma body beneath it
25.10.2016 | University of California - Santa Cruz

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Ice shelf vibrations cause unusual waves in Antarctic atmosphere

25.10.2016 | Earth Sciences

Fluorescent holography: Upending the world of biological imaging

25.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Etching Microstructures with Lasers

25.10.2016 | Process Engineering

More VideoLinks >>>