As we all hopefully know by now, the next potential event destined to trigger mass hysteria is the end of the world – actually, the end of the Mayan calendar in December 2012. Scientists have speculated on what might happen, conspiracy theorists are promulgating theories as fast as they can in the remaining two and a half years we have left, and big screen disaster movies have been made showing that the only survivor left will be Hollywood actor John Cusack.
This year’s wacky winter has left a lot of people wondering about global warming and climate change. Our record cold winter has not much to do with climate change, however; the persistent strong El Niño in the equatorial Pacific Ocean is the real culprit.
Those high Pacific sea surface temperatures that signify an El Niño event is responsible for both the quiet Atlantic hurricane season we had last year and this year’s record cold.
But just as the United States is coming out of one of the coldest winters in recent memory, Canada has experienced one of the warmest winters ever, just in time for the 2010 Winter Olympics. While Florida was freezing, and while 49 out of 50 states had snow on the ground, they had to actually truck in snow for Olympic events. This caused me to look a little more closely at what some scientists are saying about 2012, and how this might relate to the strong El Niño and the strange weather we’ve been having.
There already are predictions for increased solar flare and sunspot activity for – you guessed it – 2012. The last time this happened was in the early 20th Century, long before our electronic, digital, and satellite world existed. Major solar flare activity could wreak havoc on our communications system and knock out large portions of the world’s power grids for long periods of time. Some scientists postulate that there might be a shift in the Earth’s poles and magnetic field that could involve an actual flip of the poles or a relocation of the poles and a shift of the Earth’s axis.
I discussed these topics with Nat Strayhorn from the Key West National Weather Service office. While he didn’t want to be alarmist and cause undue concern, he told me off the record that scientists are looking into the possibility that El Niño – the baby – is “growing up,” or becoming a more permanent fixture on the planet. The possibility exists that “El Niño” may be renamed “El Joven” – The Youth.
So how does El Niño’s continued presence relate to larger climate change models and some of the 2012 predictions? Strayhorn introduced me to the lead researcher in global climatology, Dr. Rick O’Shea from the National University of Ireland in Galway. Dr. O’Shea theorizes that a continued strong El Niño does indeed point to a possible relocation of the Earth’s poles. The fact that the Mid-Atlantic States and the eastern seaboard had a brutal winter and were covered with snow much of the time, combined with the fact that Canada (located much closer to the North Pole) had one of the warmest winters ever, suggest to him that the North Pole might be shifting to somewhere between Virginia and New York.
According to Dr. O’Shea, this phenomenon, known as the Polar Icecap Shift Syndrome, is in complete agreement with the Oceanic Flow Fundamentals computer model that predicts ocean currents and sea surface temperatures. Also, increased solar flare activity, especially during the summer months of 2012 when the North Polar icecap is tilted toward the sun, could affect the relocation of the pole by December of that year. This polar shift could cause some upheavals of the plates that make up the Earth’s crust, or it may not, according to O’Shea. We would know more by April 1, 2012, if the climatological and oceanic models start lining up in agreement.
Still, as we approach the doomsday year of 2012, I bet we all become a little more familiar with those two acronyms for the Polar Icecap Shift Syndrome (P.I.S.S.) and the Oceanic Flow Fundamentals model (O.F.F.). And I’ll certainly be watching out for the headlines on April 1, 2012 to see if any of these predictions have a snowball’s chance in Canada of coming true.