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Expected Drops in Wind Speeds Promise Climate Disruption

Graphic of wind gusts swirling around green leaves

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The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that average global wind speeds could drop by up to 10 percent by 2100. Paul Williams, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Reading, in England, says, “Why do we have wind at all on the planet? It’s because of uneven temperatures; very cold at the poles and warm at the tropics. That temperature difference drives the winds, and that temperature difference is weakening. The Arctic is warming faster than the tropics.” A slowing in surface winds could disrupt the Gulf Stream, translating to widespread drought and more intense winter storms.

study published in Nature shows the Arctic has been warming four times faster than the rest of the world since 1979, much faster than scientists estimated. An increase in the number and size of urban buildings that act as a drag on winds is another contributing factor. While temperature data goes back thousands of years, climate wind change studies only have 70 years of data to work with. Substantial annual fluctuations make long-term trends difficult to detect, and conclusions leave room for doubt. Yet Gisela Winckler, at the Columbia University Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, writes, “The winds [will be] weaker and stiller.”