Why Arctic sea ice is shrinking

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 10:25 PM GMT on February 20, 2007

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Second of three vacation blogs from Dr. Masters. Enjoy.

Since 1979, coverage of Arctic sea ice has shrunk by about 10% in winter and 20% in summer. The vertical thickness of the ice has also shrunk. According to the "official" Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report in 2001, Arctic sea ice decreased in thickness by about 40% between 1958 and 1997. This figure came from submarine sonar measurements taken over five cruises in the autumns of 1958, 1960, 1962, 1970, and 1976 when compared with three cruises in the autumns of 1993, 1996, and 1997 (Rothrock et. al, 1999). However, according to modeling studies by Holloway and Sou (2001), these results are highly uncertain, since not all years or locations in the Arctic were sampled. They found that if the first five cruises had been done just one year earlier (September 1957, 1959, 1961, 1969, 1975) and the three latter cruises had been done one year later (September 1994, 1997, 1998), the sonar measurements would have shown only an 11%-15% decrease in thickness. Arctic sea ice varies greatly in thickness, and currents and winds are always pushing the ice around, making it difficult to measure how the average thickness has been declining.

Warmer air and water temperatures have contributed to the sea ice decline

Annual average surface temperature has increased about 1 degree C since 1980 over the Arctic, which accounts for much of the sea ice melt. In addition, some melting has occurred from beneath the ice, due to warmer ocean waters. Global warming has heated up both the North Pacific and North Atlantic waters significantly over the past 30 years. Warmer waters have been brought into the Arctic Ocean from the Pacific via an ocean current flowing through the Bering Strait between Alaska and Russia, and from the Atlantic via an ocean current flowing northwards along the European coast.



Figure 1. The Arctic Oscillation (AO) index from 1899 - 2006. The AO is a measure of the difference in surface pressure between the north pole and about 45 degrees north latitude. Image credit: Dave Thompson of Colorado State University.

Wind patterns are a major cause of sea ice loss


The Arctic Oscillation is an observed natural pattern of surface pressure variations in the Northern Hemisphere. The "positive index" of the AO is defined when the surface pressure is below normal at the north pole and above normal at about 45 degrees north latitude. Positive Arctic Oscillation conditions steer storms farther north, bringing stronger surface westerly winds in the North Atlantic and warmer and wetter than normal conditions to the Arctic and northern Europe. The winds and ocean currents during the positive Arctic Oscillation mode tend to drive sea ice from west to east along the north shore of Canada, then out of the Arctic Ocean through the channel of water to the east of Greenland (Fram Strait).

When one looks at the wintertime pattern of the Arctic Oscillation (AO) over the past 100 years, a mostly random pattern of positive and negative AO modes is apparent (Figure 1). However, one anomalous period is very striking: a string of seven consecutive years with a positive AO, including two years (1989 and 1990) with the highest AO index ever observed. During this period, strong westerly winds rapidly flushed more than 80% of the oldest, thickest sea ice out of the Arctic Ocean, leaving most of the Arctic covered with ice less than three years old (Figure 2). Younger ice is much thinner, and melts much more readily. Rigor and Wallace (2004) estimate that at least half of the loss of sea ice in the Arctic since 1979 is due to these six years of strange weather with very low surface pressure over the Arctic. Did climate change cause this unusual pattern between 1989 and 1995? It is possible, but no one has published any papers showing how this might have occurred. For now, the assumption is that this major loss of Arctic sea ice due to wind patterns between 1989-1995 is natural.

The big concern is that since the strange positive Arctic Oscillation years of 1989-1995, a number of years with negative AO have occurred. Normally, during negative AO years, ice extent and thickness increase in the Arctic. But instead, ice extent and thickness during 2002-2006 have shown an unprecedented series of record minima, giving rise to fears that we are on our way to an ice-free Arctic later this century.



Figure 2. The change in age and thickness of sea ice between 1987 and 2005. In 1987, most of the Arctic sea ice was old and thick, generally more than ten years old. A period of strong positive Arctic Oscillation conditions between 1989 and 1995 created winds and currents that flushed most of this old ice out of the Arctic Ocean, through Fram Strait to the east of Greenland. The new ice that replaced the old ice is much thinner. Image credit: Rigor, I. G., and J. M. Wallace (2004), "Variations in the age of Arctic sea-ice and summer sea-ice extent," Geophys. Res. Lett., 31, L09401, doi:10.1029/2004GL019492.


This is the third in a series of five blogs on climate change in the Arctic that will appear every Monday and Thursday over the next two weeks. Next blog: Future abrupt loss of Arctic sea ice.

Also, be sure to visit our new Climate Change blog, written by Dr. Ricky Rood of the University of Michigan.

Jeff Masters

References
Holloway, G. and T. Sou, 2001, "Has Arctic Sea Ice Rapidly Thinned?", Journal of Climate 15, p1691-1701, 2001.

Rigor, I. G., and J. M. Wallace (2004), "Variations in the age of Arctic sea-ice and summer sea-ice extent," Geophys. Res. Lett., 31, L09401, doi:10.1029/2004GL019492.

Rothrock D.A., Y. Yu, and G.A. Maykut, 1999: "Thinning of the Arctic sea ice cover." Geophys. Res. Lett., 26, 3469-3472.

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92. Thunderstorm2
4:40 PM GMT on February 21, 2007
Skye, Rand was cursing and going on about it in auburns blog at around 4am EST yeasterday. I don't think he slept all night
Member Since: December 22, 2006 Posts: 129 Comments: 7608
91. weatherboykris
4:40 PM GMT on February 21, 2007
Sheri~ your not bugging anyone, questions are good. I just tend to blog & walk away & come back, catch up & do the same. Thanks for clearing up the doldrums pottery:) & Yes warm sst alone mean nothing, many other factors come to play.

Two things about the SFL drought, it's slowing going fairly state wide, & nearly every year Fl gets slammed by 'canes it was droughtish, though the studies have shown we can have the winter/spring drought & not have hurricane activity. Consider the drought upping our odds.



2004 was a horrible drought year...and look what happened.
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
90. Skyepony (Mod)
4:36 PM GMT on February 21, 2007
As for stepping in on Rand's & STL's arguement, we usually did. Very few was around that night. Aaron left his thoughts in his blog as to why he banned them, they both broke the terms of agreement. From the sounds of it they both got way out of line.
Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 163 Comments: 37852
89. Thunderstorm2
4:36 PM GMT on February 21, 2007
I forgot to say hi.
Member Since: December 22, 2006 Posts: 129 Comments: 7608
88. hurricane23
4:34 PM GMT on February 21, 2007
The ICFDs reveal a La Niņa increase relative to neutral in hurricane landfalls along the East Coast, that is not present in Florida. During a cold event, the probability of two or more hurricanes hitting the East Coast is 18% vs. only 9% during a neutral event (Fig. 3). In Florida, the probability of two or more hurricanes making landfall is 22% during a cold event and 20% during a neutral event No warm phase year has produced more than one hurricane landfall in either Florida or along the East Coast. For both areas there is a decrease in hurricane landfalls in the warm phase.



The number of hurricanes that made landfall in Florida each year between 1900 and 1998. El Niņo years are indicated in red, neutral years are shown in green and La Niņa years are indicated in blue.



The number of hurricanes that made landfall along the East Coast each year between 1900 and 1998. El Niņo years are indicated in red, neutral years are shown in green and La Niņa years are indicated in blue.
Member Since: May 14, 2006 Posts: 8 Comments: 13792
87. Skyepony (Mod)
4:34 PM GMT on February 21, 2007
Sheri~ your not bugging anyone, questions are good. I just tend to blog & walk away & come back, catch up & do the same. Thanks for clearing up the doldrums pottery:) & Yes warm sst alone mean nothing, many other factors come to play.

Two things about the SFL drought, it's slowing going fairly state wide, & nearly every year Fl gets slammed by 'canes it was droughtish, though the studies have shown we can have the winter/spring drought & not have hurricane activity. Consider the drought upping our odds.
Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 163 Comments: 37852
86. Thunderstorm2
4:32 PM GMT on February 21, 2007
He hacked into Rands Blog
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85. franck
4:26 PM GMT on February 21, 2007
Shear conditions seem to be abating a little already, which is surprising.
Member Since: August 30, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 1150
84. franck
4:22 PM GMT on February 21, 2007
Why was MichaelSTL banned? He was about weather.
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83. weatherboykris
4:21 PM GMT on February 21, 2007
Yes sheri(that's your name,right?),but what he meant was that even after the water gets warm enough...it still takes a while for hurricane season to get going.You need the water to evaporate and moisten te air,and you need the wind shear to slow down.
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
82. catastropheadjuster
4:15 PM GMT on February 21, 2007
POTTERY: Thank You one more thing if it stays warm will that mean we might see a bad season cause don't warm water fuel hurricanes?
Member Since: August 24, 2006 Posts: 21 Comments: 3676
81. hurricane23
4:15 PM GMT on February 21, 2007
Yea kris ive seen those maps they both pretty much indicate busy times for florida.My picks for areas seeing the most activity this season are florida and north carolina with florida seeing the most activity.Look forward to see what Phil Klotzbach and others have to say on the all important steering patterns that might be in place.
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80. weatherboykris
4:11 PM GMT on February 21, 2007
Florida hurricanes in neutral:



Contrast with La Nina:



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79. weatherboykris
4:07 PM GMT on February 21, 2007
Yeah,but the SAL is usually strong this time of year.
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
78. hurricane23
4:06 PM GMT on February 21, 2007
Alot of things have to be at certain level in order for a tropical system to flourish warm SST'S is not eveything as we saw in 2006.SAL will have to watched in the coming months because if right now were august nothing would develope the way things are in the basin.It really put the caps on the 06 season.

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

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77. weatherboykris
4:05 PM GMT on February 21, 2007
bye pottery.
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
76. pottery
4:04 PM GMT on February 21, 2007
I'll be back laters.........
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24314
75. weatherboykris
4:02 PM GMT on February 21, 2007
Catastropheadjuster,until Rand comes back atmos's blog is the new severe weather blog,mine will also be covering severe weather.
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
74. weatherboykris
4:00 PM GMT on February 21, 2007
And,if it last to next winter,more arctic cold fronts.
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
73. hurricane23
3:59 PM GMT on February 21, 2007
Kris that will probably mean drought conditions for us across florida...
Member Since: May 14, 2006 Posts: 8 Comments: 13792
72. pottery
3:58 PM GMT on February 21, 2007
Catastrophe, Further, you said that the Atl. should start warming now because hurricane season is around the corner. But bear in mind that the warm water comes first... The storms cant get going unless the water temp gets up, because warm air holds more moisture than dry air.
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24314
71. hurricane23
3:58 PM GMT on February 21, 2007
Hey sheri!I sent you a few links a couple of days ago on how to understand la nina & nino affects across the basin.
Member Since: May 14, 2006 Posts: 8 Comments: 13792
70. weatherboykris
3:57 PM GMT on February 21, 2007



CPC says La Nina on the way in 3 months.
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
69. weatherboykris
3:56 PM GMT on February 21, 2007
Yes,Rand and STL were banned.
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
68. pottery
3:54 PM GMT on February 21, 2007
Hi Catastrophe. No need to sver feel sorry for asking questions here. We learn by asking,right ?

The doldrums are areas of ocean where the winds are calm for long periuods. If there is no wind, and the air above the sea is hot, the sea surface warms up.

And yes, you are right, the Atlantic is due to start warming up, but there is an area off Africa that is unusualy warm for this time of year.

We were trying to figure out what could cool it now, to bring it back in line with " normal".
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24314
67. catastropheadjuster
3:50 PM GMT on February 21, 2007
Who got banned? Was it Randrewl & MichealSTL
Member Since: August 24, 2006 Posts: 21 Comments: 3676
66. pottery
3:46 PM GMT on February 21, 2007
Having said that...I realy hope to see those guys back on here........SOON
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65. catastropheadjuster
3:45 PM GMT on February 21, 2007
Guys I'm not trying to bother you'll so please don't get angry with me.
Member Since: August 24, 2006 Posts: 21 Comments: 3676
64. catastropheadjuster
3:44 PM GMT on February 21, 2007
What is duldrums? Also shouldn't the Alantic start warming around this time? why would it be cooling down? Sorry I just don't understand. to me i think this time of the year it should start warming cause hurricane season is around the corner. I know I'm probaly wrong so would someone take a minute and explain it to me. Sorry but Thanks for taking the time to tell me.
Member Since: August 24, 2006 Posts: 21 Comments: 3676
63. pottery
3:41 PM GMT on February 21, 2007
Re : the banned. We as a group need to try to diffuse some of the quarrelsome behaviour that results in people being banned. Some guys have an ego bigger than their brain. I was not on when it occured. But if a couple people had stepped in maybe it would have cooled down ? Getting banned is pretty futile . Admin has a job to do, and frankly I approve of their actions. If I want Bachanal and stupidness I"ll go to the TV...............
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24314
62. Skyepony (Mod)
3:38 PM GMT on February 21, 2007
The Carribean is having way clamer than normal winds right now, that may change before season begins. Can see the affects on the sst anamoly graphics. Last season, they stayed higher than normal cause of El Nino. Your right though, we probibly shouldn't hope that as a savior this season as neutral conditions will cut those winds about as much as a la nina would. Atleast the doldrums are at a minimum for the Atlantic, lets hope they stay that way.
Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 163 Comments: 37852
61. catastropheadjuster
3:37 PM GMT on February 21, 2007
Good Morning everyone. boy about 6:30 this morning it was doing some raining I mean very heavy and got a little rough. It woke me up and I looked out the bedroom window and I couldn't even see our pool it was raining so hard. But it was like someone threw a light switch and it just stopped. Know all it's doing is drizzling, but they said it suppose to clear up by lunch and be a nice day. I read the new up date so are they saying La Nina will probaly take effect during hurricane season? I'm still trying to understand all this stuff.
Member Since: August 24, 2006 Posts: 21 Comments: 3676
60. Buhdog
3:36 PM GMT on February 21, 2007
I am glad that lake Okeechobee is 5 feet low. I live in Cape Coral where the river runs into the gulf. Whenever the lake is high they release almost 80,000 gallons of fresh water a second down our brackish river. Kills alot of blue crab and life along with blue green algae blooms. Corps are supposedly working on a plan. Big Money. I say stay away rain...this is south Florida...no rain in winter.
Member Since: July 30, 2005 Posts: 1 Comments: 960
59. pottery
3:31 PM GMT on February 21, 2007
Yep Skye, thanks. But during the summer the winds are generally more calm than now. So cooling would have to come from an upwelling, and that becomes less and less likely. Its going to be interesting anyway.
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24314
58. Skyepony (Mod)
3:24 PM GMT on February 21, 2007
Pottery~ High surface winds or upwelling would help cool the Atlantic.

Right now a little case of the duldrums has set in just off Africa so for short term, we could expect that spot to grow even warmer.

Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 163 Comments: 37852
57. Skyepony (Mod)
3:20 PM GMT on February 21, 2007
Biff~ Yeah the new Ice is more prone to melt, hasn't been compressed yet. From what I understand ice as young as 10 years old is "old ice" & more resistant to melting.

As for ENSO~ The CPC is predicting La Nina conditions for the 2nd 1/2 of the year. I updated about it my blog a few days ago, exactly where all the #s are & all. If your interested check it out, it will be the last day I have the graphics up til I update next Monday when the next CPC report comes out.
Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 163 Comments: 37852
56. Patrap
3:09 PM GMT on February 21, 2007
A slideshow of Yesterdays Revelry..The Real look..Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 424 Comments: 128321
55. pottery
3:07 PM GMT on February 21, 2007
hi. Definitely warmer than average SST off Africa. Hurricane23 said that hopefully the thing will cool down before June. I cant see any reason for that happening at all. Why would it cool ? There is less and less cold water entering the conveyor belt all the time..........
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24314
54. 147257
2:53 PM GMT on February 21, 2007
tornadodude if u were here last year u would have known :) but it was bad for hurricanes in the atlantic
Member Since: August 2, 2005 Posts: 7 Comments: 68
53. 147257
2:52 PM GMT on February 21, 2007
hurricane23 between 0 and 1 degree warmer then normal doesnt mean that much if it is higher then 1 degree and if that are large spots we should worry
Member Since: August 2, 2005 Posts: 7 Comments: 68
52. 147257
2:49 PM GMT on February 21, 2007
its very interesting to ready this thnx dr jeff master u keep the blog interesting for the whole year :)
Member Since: August 2, 2005 Posts: 7 Comments: 68
51. tornadodude
2:44 PM GMT on February 21, 2007
is la nina bad for hurricanes in the atlantic?
... On this date in Indiana weather history...

1779 it rained all day on the Army under George Rogers Clark
as they crossed the flooded Wabash River near St
Francisville Ferry... on their advance towards British held
Vincennes.
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 25 Comments: 8344
50. hurricane23
9:20 AM EST on February 21, 2007
Summary: The 2006/07 El Niņo has ended...

The 2006/07 El Niņo has ended. All the main ENSO indicators show that neutral conditions have returned to the Pacific Basin. Along the equator, sea-surface temperatures are cooling rapidly and have been below their El Niņo thresholds for about a month now. The Trade Winds have mostly been close to or somewhat stronger than normal since December, the SOI has been neutral for three of the past four months and central-western Pacific cloudiness is close to average. Computer models indicate further cooling in the Pacific, with a La Niņa not out of the question (see third paragraph).

What does this mean for Australia? Firstly, while the end of the El Niņo would normally be associated with a return to more normal rainfall patterns, it should not be seen as a precursor to drought-breaking rains. This particularly applies to water supplies in parts of eastern and southern Australia, which in some instances require several years of healthy rainfalls to recover to a satisfactory level. Nonetheless, we can be cautiously optimistic that there will be a general easing of dry conditions in drought-affected areas over the next one to two seasons.

A La Niņa in 2007?
The chance of a La Niņa developing in 2007 is thought to be higher than the long-term average (which is about one in five or 20%) because (a) they have a tendency to follow an El Niņo; (b) the El Niņo has decayed somewhat earlier than normal thereby giving time for a La Niņa to begin developing during the critical March to June period; and (c) a large pool of cold sub-surface water has developed in the central to eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. La Niņa events are generally associated with wetter than normal conditions across much of the eastern half of the country from about autumn.

ENSO UPDATE!
Member Since: May 14, 2006 Posts: 8 Comments: 13792
49. biff4ugo
7:56 AM EST on February 21, 2007
Is older ice more like glacier ice, in that it is more crystaline and can resist melting better, or does that take a looong time to happen? I mean is the new ice only thinner or is it more prone to melt too?
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48. HadesGodWyvern (Mod)
4:35 PM JST on February 21, 2007
Central Indian Ocean
-------------------------
Developing Tropical Low
9.7S 90.0E - 25 knots 1002 hPa

moving west-southwest at 12 knots
maximum winds 30 knots

The tropical low may form into a tropical cyclone in the next 12 to 24 hours.

This is the last advisory from TCWC Perth, the system will be monitored by RSMC Reunion.

the next advisory is at 12:30pm Wednesday.
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47. Skyepony (Mod)
5:13 AM GMT on February 21, 2007
JustSouthofEquator~ Glad noone was killed. I was just noticing in Stormydee's blog Indonesia had 5 earthquakes today. Sounds rough in your part of the world at the moment.
Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 163 Comments: 37852
46. MisterPerfect
4:50 AM GMT on February 21, 2007
REINSTITUTE RANDREWL

--MisterPerfect, WUSPIS, CEO
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45. JustSouthofEquator
4:14 AM GMT on February 21, 2007
Hello fellow wunderbloggers !
Greetings from Indonesia !
Even here unusual weather affects us, on 5 pm Sunday ( february 18th 2007 ) the city of yogyakarta in central java was struck by what seems to be a tornado ( F0 most likely). It damages and destroyed thousands of homes, public utilities and offices. The winds were strong enough to pull off roof tiles, snap trees in half and throw bicycle into cars, with funnel like structure extending from the cloud. Many people were injured but thankfully nobody got killed.
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44. Vanagew
5:04 PM NZDT on February 21, 2007
IDW23100
40:3:1:24:AASBBBE999:11:00
SECURITE

HIGH SEAS WEATHER WARNING FOR METAREA 10 ISSUED BY THE
AUSTRALIAN BUREAU OF METEOROLOGY TROPICAL CYCLONE WARNING
CENTRE PERTH AT 2344UTC 20 FEBRUARY 2007

Gale Warning FOR THE WESTERN AREA

Please be aware, wind gusts can be a further 40 percent stronger than the
averages given here, and maximum waves may be up to twice the height.

SITUATION
At 2300UTC a developing tropical low was located within 40 nautical miles of
Latitude nine decimal six degrees South [9.6S]
Longitude ninety one decimal three degrees East [91.3E]
Recent movement west southwest at 10 knots.
Maximum winds: 30 knots.
Central Pressure: 1004 hPa

AREA AFFECTED
Within 60 nautical miles of the centre extending to 120 nautical miles of the
centre in the southern semicircle.

FORECAST
Low may develop into a tropical cyclone in the next 12 to 24 hours
causing clockwise winds 25/33 knots increasing to 30/40 knots in the southern
semicircle, rough to very rough seas and moderate swell.





At 1100UTC 21 February: Within 40 nautical miles of ten decimal five South
eighty nine decimal four East
Central pressure 1000 hPa.
Winds to 35 knots near centre.
At 2300UTC 21 February: Within 70 nautical miles of eleven decimal six South
eighty six decimal nine East
Central pressure 995 hPa.
Winds to 40 knots near centre.

Next warning issued by 0500UTC 21 February 2007.
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43. hurricane23
9:34 PM EST on February 20, 2007

Member Since: May 14, 2006 Posts: 8 Comments: 13792
42. 882MB
2:21 AM GMT on February 21, 2007
Wow pretty soon we may be looking at 3 SYSTEMS IN THE SOUTHERN INDIAN OCEAN, BESIDES FAVIO AND 97S RIGHT BEHIND 97S ANOTHER LOW PRESSURE WITH ALOT OF CONVECTION IS LOOKING LIKE ITS ALSO STRENTHENING.THESE SYSTEM ORIGINATE OVER INDONESIA AND TRAVERSE THE SOUTHERN INDIAN OCEAN WHERE IF CONDITIONS ARE FAVORABLE TROPICAL DEVELOPMENT IS LIKELY, SIMILAR TO OUR SEASON WHERE AS OUR TROPICAL WAVES ORIGINATE OVER AFRICA!
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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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