Science & Technology
11:39 am
Mon September 24, 2012

U Study Finds a Stratospheric Connection to Climate Variability

A University of Utah study shows that changes in the earth’s upper atmosphere have an impact on deep ocean circulation patterns in the North Atlantic. 

The study’s senior author Thomas Reichler is Associate Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Utah.  His office is on the top floor of the building – but doesn’t quite reach into the stratosphere that he studies. Reichler explains that we all live in the troposphere.  You’d have to go up at least six miles above the surface of the earth to reach the stratosphere. While the interplay of these two parts of the atmosphere has been documented, Reichler says the relationship between the stratosphere and the ocean has been unknown.

“It has been known for maybe 10 years now at least that conditions in the stratosphere have a clear impact on tropospheric – on our weather and our climate.  And it’s also known that the troposphere in turn could impact the ocean,” Reichler told KUER, “Now in this study, we show finally that there is a direct connection between the stratosphere and the ocean.”

The study shows that periodic changes in winds way up in the stratosphere can affect water temperature, circulation, and the salinity of the Atlantic Ocean.  Reichler says this may lead to long-lasting changes in climate.

“Any change to the ocean – to the temperature, the salinity, the circulation structure in the ocean -  has important consequences for terrestrial climate on North America and also Europe.”

Reichler says scientists are only at the beginning of understanding the complex feedback mechanism that affect climate. The study is published in the latest issue of Nature Geoscience.