Weather Watch

John Lindsey: Navy’s new challenge is Arctic's melting ice

Our country is surrounded by immense bodies of water — from the Pacific to the west, Atlantic to the east and the Arctic to the north.

In fact, 70 percent of Earth’s surface is covered by water and 80 percent of the planet’s population lives in or near coastal areas.

Nearly all global commerce is conducted by sea.

It’s the U.S. Navy’s mission to deter aggression and maintain the freedom of the world’s oceans, seas and waterways. I served for 24 years in the Navy and came to deeply appreciate the tireless commitment and courage of my fellow sailors to carry out this mission, even in treacherous conditions.

Former President John F. Kennedy, who was a naval officer, said “Any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worthwhile can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction: ‘I served in the United States Navy.’ ”

In order for the Navy to carry out its mission, not only must it be able to assess the ocean environment that it operates in now, but also years in the future. This has become more difficult each year with climate change.

For example, in the 1990s, U.S. Navy submarines reported a shocking loss of thickness in the Arctic sea ice. In 2004, satellite altimetry confirmed this. Just this month, the level of ice in the Arctic Ocean dropped to its lowest amount on record, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. To make matters worse, this ice melt was faster than earlier climate models had predicted.

According to the Navy, the diminished ice levels may cause a greater amount of competition for Arctic resources, such as oil, but may also open previously frozen seas for commercial shipping, fishing and tourism. With this competition will come others countries’ navies.

Not only does the Navy have to worry about the Arctic, but the subsequent unrelenting rise in sea levels will affect coastal installations and will also put Navy ports throughout the world at risk, especially during storms that generate increasing sea-level surges. You see, when water warms, it expands. During strong El Niño events, when seawater temperatures along our coastline are warmer than normal, water levels can actually be several inches higher than those predicted in the tide tables. This is due to the thermal expansion of the water column in the upper levels of the ocean.

According to Josh Willis of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, “Events like El Niño, La Niña and huge volcanic eruptions can make the planet warm up or cool down for a few years at a time. There could even be a few others that we haven’t discovered yet. But over the long run, the rate of sea-level change continues to accelerate.”

Back in 2009, the chief of naval operations, Adm. Gary Roughead, became so concerned with climate change that he established Task Force Climate Change, led by Rear Adm. David Titley, the former oceanographer of the Navy. The goal of the task force is to ensure the U.S. Navy is ready to meet mission requirements in the 21st century in spite of a warming atmosphere and hydrosphere.

“Understanding and forecasting something as complex and dynamic as global climate change is a challenge beyond the capability of any single organization,” Titley said.

Today, the U.S. Navy and Marines are partnering with the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Department of Energy, along with other government agencies and academic institutions, to improve climate modeling and prepare for changes to our environment.

“The U.S. Navy is evaluating climate change through the lens of risk management to ensure operational readiness throughout the century. It would be negligent of us not to take this potential risk seriously,” Rear Adm. Jon White, the Navy’s current oceanographer and director of the task force, wrote me Friday.

Cmdr. Blake McBride of the climate change group said, “Earth’s changing climate and how the nation responds to it needs to be part of a national discussion based on legitimate science.”

Historical records indicate gradual changes in sea level over hundreds or thousands of years, but we have not seen anything quite as dramatic as the past few decades. Couple that with what we are witnessing today — extreme heat waves and droughts that have devastated wildlife and ruined crops — and the reduction of man-made greenhouse gases will benefit us and generations to come.

Today’s weather report

Gentle (4- to 12-mph) northeasterly (offshore) winds will limit the marine layer to the immediate coast this morning. Expect clear skies at the beaches later in the morning as high pressure builds over the Central Coast.

Today’s high temperatures will range from low to high 70s along the beaches. The North County will reach the high 90s, while the coastal valleys will reach the low 90s.

Gentle to moderate (8- to 18-mph) and at times gusty northeasterly (offshore) winds are forecast late tonight into Monday morning.

These offshore winds will produce compressional heating in the coastal valleys and along the beaches and will prevent the formation of the marine layer.

Temperatures along the beaches Monday will be well above normal, with low to mid-80s expected for daytime highs. Coastal valleys will see low to mid-90s. North County locations are expected to be in the low 100s.

Gentle to moderate (8- to 18-mph) northwesterly (onshore) winds are expected to return Tuesday, which will lower temperatures for coastal locations. Widespread relief from the heat is in the forecast for Wednesday, when an upper-level trough will begin to extend down into the western United States. This will increase the onshore flow and allow for the return of night and morning marine low clouds, fog and areas of drizzle.

Temperatures are still expected to be above normal for this time of year; however they will not be at the near-record levels as expected Monday.

Upper-level flow is expected to switch to southerly, which could draw in some subtropical moisture and increase the chance for scattered showers and isolated thunderstorm development over the Sierra. However, the Central Coast is not expected to receive any rain.

Today’s surf report

Today’s northwesterly (300-degree deep-water) swell (with an 8- to 10-second period) will continue at this height and period through tonight.

This morning’s 4- to 6-foot northwesterly (300-degree deep-water) swell (with a 12- to 14-second period) will continue at this height and period through Monday. This swell will decrease to 3 to 5 feet (with a 7- to 12-second period) Tuesday, further lowering to 2 to 4 feet (with an 8- to 11-second period) Wednesday through Friday.

Arriving from the Southern Hemisphere: Today’s 1- to 2-foot Southern Hemisphere (200-degree deep-water) swell (with a 15- to 17-second period) will continue into Monday.

Another long-period Southern Hemisphere (210-degree deep-water) swell is expected Thursday into Friday. Seawater temperatures: Seawater temperature will range between 55 and 57 degrees through Monday. Seawater temperatures will increase to 56 and 58 degrees Tuesday and remain at this level through Friday.

Red Cross gift The American Red Cross received a gift from PG&E of $100,000 for five Central Coast counties, including San Luis Obispo County, to launch the Ready Neighborhoods program in communities vulnerable to events like earthquakes.

Questions welcome>/b>

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John Lindsey’s column is special to The Tribune. He is a media relations representative for PG&E and longtime local meteorologist.

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