Atmospheric Rivers and Climate Change

The recent floods in California resulted from atmospheric rivers. Readers may review this method of planetary water distribution in our recent post:

Atmospheric rivers have become a popular meteorological topic du jour. It is unusual that such an important topic has not achieved more notoriety in the current lexicon of meteorology and climatology. The term atmospheric river was first used in 1994. The phenomenon has currently achieved a high level of awareness.  

Climate change is referenced many times in our current weather and climate conversation. Many ordinary phenomena are linked to or credited to climate change. The term is used repeatedly. The existence of atmospheric rivers is commonly linked to climate change. A variable scale of impact—AR 1 to AR 5 (dependent on amount of water vapor contained and duration of the phenomenon) reminds us of the scale of hurricane strength (Saffir-Simpson wind scale: category 1 to 5), or tornado intensity (Fujita scale: F1 to F4) also based on wind speeds. The scale of atmospheric rivers from 1-5 was first proposed in 2019.  

Because Earth’s climate has been in a state of ongoing change over many millennia, many analysts have insisted that climate change is mostly a natural occurrence. Fossil fuel consumption by humans has generated increased production of carbon dioxide emissions from the late 19th century to our current 21st century society. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas (GHG) capable of generating more atmospheric warming than natural events. Climate change (1) is caused by natural factors, and (2) climate change is also caused by the collective impact of humanity whose population has increased eight-fold since the beginning of the 19th century. It is difficult to deny the importance of fossil fuel consumption. 

The recent publicity concerning atmospheric rivers has called attention to current serious flooding in California. The flooding has impacted agriculture in the Golden State, especially in the last several years since the atmospheric river phenomenon has intensified. The flooding has been a mixed blessing for California. Many reservoirs are currently refilling from previous drought conditions. Serious flooding in California impacts food prices across America. The Central California Valley contains only 1% of our nation’s farmland, but this region produces one-third of US vegetables and two-thirds of our nation’s fruits and nuts. The annual value of California’s agricultural products exceeds $50 billion; over $20 billion in agricultural products is exported to other countries. The valley produces more than 250 different agricultural products. It is also home to 6.5 million residents, many of whom are employed in farming.

Floods in the state of California are cyclical as are droughts. Long before old world explorers arrived in the new world, atmospheric rivers were pounding the North American west coast. Native Americans resided in the Central California Valley long before European explorers arrived. No doubt those Native Americans experienced mega-floods from atmospheric rivers in the years 212, 440, 603, 1029, c. 1300, 1418, 1605, 1750, 1810, and most recently—1861-62. Fertile sediments washing downstream from mountain ranges to the east supplied layer upon layer of fertile silt in the Santa Barbara Basin.  (USGS sediment research…..Wikipedia article.)  Several of these mega-floods were more intense than the 1861-62 series of atmospheric rivers which killed many Native American people and farm animals and devastated the Golden State economy.

The greatest historical west coast floods have occurred roughly every 200 years in the past two millennia. It is clear to modern researchers that atmospheric rivers have been a component of our climate system for thousands of years—long before climate change was given credit for amplifying them. We may be due for another mega-flooding event. California is due for “The Big One—“ a reference to a possible great earthquake such as occurred in 1906. But If we were to apply this term to an onslaught of atmospheric rivers, we may predict a flood of monumental proportions. Damage to California’s agriculture would be devastating.

The Creator has authored a planetary environment in which the entire climate system works for the ultimate benefit of human life. In the Book of Genesis God mandates humans to “have dominion.” Humanity must apply knowledge, intelligence, and wisdom in order to “have dominion.” (Genesis 1:28)

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