In 1940, my high school science teacher taught us that it had been proven that the weather in Western Europe was controlled by the temperature of the water in the Gulf of Mexico. The warm water from there moves eastward to sweep around Key West, Fla., and then heads north forming the Gulf Stream. When it collides with the cold, arctic water, it makes a U-turn and heads south for Western Europe. As the cold, Arctic storms sweep south and pass over that warm water, they are dramatically affected. So much so, that when the coast of Normandy was invaded by the Allied Forces in World War II, they depended on this theory to decide when the weather would be just right for the invasion to take place.
In November of 1960, I commented to a group of ski shop owners in a meeting in Southern California, "If the ocean stays as warm as it was when I went surfing this morning the local mountains will have a lousy ski season." Snowmaking machines had not been invented yet, and that winter became one of the worst on record.
Ten years later, I mixed my knowledge of the Gulf of Mexico's warm-water effect on Western Europe with the Sea of Japan and the Japanese currents effect on the West Coast. As that current steams north from Japan, it is deflected by the Aleutian Islands and heads down the West Coast. Depending on its temperature, it has to affect Western America's weather in the same manner as the Gulf Stream does when the storms power out of the Aleutians Islands. If the current is warm, the snow level will rise and a water shortage will follow in the summer.
However, that Northeastern part of the Pacific Ocean has been covered by hundreds of millions of plastic, water bottles and other accumulating, floating debris until the mass completely covers an area twice the size of Texas. Since plastic is non-biodegradable, every ounce of it that has been manufactured since its invention in the early 1930s will exist forever. Forever is a longtime.
The incredible size of what is now called the Water Bottle Gyre (or North Pacific Gyre) has to have enormous reflective powers and keeps that part of the Pacific from gathering heat with its daily doses of sunshine.
The result of this cooling effect is that as the Japanese Current flows by that now-cooler water, it too loses more of its heat than it had gathered in the Sea of Japan and is thus colder than it used to be. I think the result is that the storms that hit the West Coast are colder than they used to be.
The snow levels in the mountains are lower and the storms that hit the West Coast are farther south.
A side effect of all of this is that it has also deflected the Jet Stream farther south and instead of sliding across Washington, Oregon and Idaho, Utah, Montana and on eastward, as it has since forever, it is sometimes now much farther south. It flows across California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. After Texas, it slides under the hot air flowing up from the Gulf of Mexico and, bingo, you have a lot more tornados, ice and snowstorms and mammoth floods all over the Eastern United States. Here in Washington, the summer of 2011 was the shortest and coldest on record.
The Pacific Rim, consisting of the West Coast, Canada, the Aleutians and south to Japan have been known for years as The Rim of Fire. If the Water Bottle Gyre grows in size, will it become the rim of fog, snow and ice?
A simple experiment will add credibility to my water bottle reflection hypothesis. Just put two cookie sheets out in the sun in the morning. Fill both of them with water and then float a mirror in one of them that is one-third the size of the pan. Take the temperature of both pans of water later in the day and you will see a noticeable difference in their temperature due to the mirror's reflection.
That is what is happening in the northeastern Pacific while you are reading this. If you still are? (I know I can be confusing.)
Remember, plastic is not biodegradable, however the water bottles break up into smaller pieces, so this gigantic cloud of plastic particles has taken over the ocean to a depth of over 300 feet. The broken-up shards of plastic are slowly being consumed by the fish, whales, seals and all other forms of sea life, which consequently shortens their life.
What if this was all true? How can we get rid of that mass? Email me at email@example.com.
I would like to know what you think.
Filmmaker Warren Miller lived in Vail for 12 years, and his column began in the Vail Daily before being syndicated to more than 50 publications. For more of Miller's stories and stuff, log on to www.warrenmiller.net. For information about his foundation, The Warren Miller Freedom Foundation, go to www.warrenmiller.org.