This was never intended to be a “techy” blog, though my last few posts do seem to have taken me in that direction, which shows how easy it is for me to get side-tracked by the wunnerful world of Web 2.0.
Well, other much more important things have been happening in the world outside my computer during the past few days, one of which is the flooding in Sheffield, Leeds, Hull and other places in the Midlands. Though many miles from here in the West Country, it is still an unprecedented event and worth blogging about. Three people have lost their lives in the flash-floods, caused by the heaviest June rainfall since records began over 100 years ago. A 68-year-old man was drowned when he was carried away by the torrent while trying to escape from his car caught in the rising water; a teenager who ventured too close to a raging river that had burst its banks was lost; his body was found a quarter of a mile downstream; a man who fell legs-first into a manhole, the cover of which had been forced up by the pressure of the water in the drainage system below, drowned after unsuccessful attempts were made to free him over several hours by the emergency services.
According to the BBC, the UK’s Environment Agency said the weather conditions were phenomenal. The agency’s flood expert, Phil Rothwell, said: “We’ve had a sixth of the annual rainfall in 12 hours. Climate change experts tell us that this is the sort of thing we need to expect for the future.”
Because of fears the Ulley Dam could collapse, hundreds of people have been forced to flee their homes in the villages of Whiston, Canklow, Catcliffe and Treeton. Efforts are being made to reinforce the 14 metre wall, which dams a 35-acre reservoir. Police have closed the M1 between junctions 34 to 32 because of the risk posed by the dam.
Economic chiefs are warning that the floods will cost the country millions, and insurers are expecting tens of millions in claims from homeowners.
Can we really continue to deny that climate change is already upon us? There are many scientists and climate experts who are cautious in their assessment of the current situation, and yes, avoiding knee-jerk reactions can be a good thing in the scientific world — but caution could also end up putting us all in mortal danger. While politicians prevaricate, more and more research into the complexities of climate change keep throwing spanners in the works.
The phrases “climate change” and “global warming” are often used interchangeably, as though they describe the same thing, but it ain’t necessarily so. Here in the UK, we joke about how our country would benefit — “if this is climate change, bring it on!” was a phrase often heard during the past few years during our long, pleasant, warm, dry summers. But emerging research seems to point to an altogether different outlook for Great Britain. Rather than warming our green and pleasant land, changes already afoot could bring about a dramatic cooling of our climate.
The effect of the Gulf Stream, which I wrote about in my post Defeat Global Warming? Just Think About It, brings to Great Britain much warmer weather than we should otherwise have a right to expect. Our northerly latitude puts us on a par with Canada and Siberia and by rights our weather should be as cold and dramatic as theirs. In March of this year, the Atlantic Gulf Stream, which tracks up the eastern seaboard of the United States and brings warm water from the equatorial regions northwards into the cooler waters of the North Atlantic, weakened considerably and was also pushed further south than is usual by the downflowing cold water of the Arctic Ocean, which in turn is greater in volume than in years gone by because of the accelerating glacial melt caused by higher Arctic temperatures. This allowed cold air from the Arctic to travel much further south, the result being that our warm spring in March-April turned cold, windy and wet by the beginning of June. The depression that caused the flooding over the past few days was large and slow-moving; the unprecedented rainfall was due to warm, moist air moving northwards meeting cold air flowing south. Where the two met, a static band of heavy rainfall ensued.
If the Gulf Stream were to fail completely — a scenario that is not impossible, as research seems to indicate, our weather here and elsewhere in the northern hemisphere could change dramatically: The best models suggest there would be a 5°F drop over Asia and North America and up to 6°F in Europe … winter storms and cyclonic winds would intensify, amplifying the impact of the changes. Average annual rainfall in Europe and China could decrease by nearly 30%. Europe’s climate would then become more like Siberia’s, bringing harsh conditions for agriculture.
Recent research in another area — that of sunspots — points to a further mechanism that might be responsible for global cooling. In Canada’s Financial Post on 20th June 2007, in an article called Read The Sunspots, R. Timothy Patterson, professor and director of the Ottawa-Carleton Geoscience Centre, Department of Earth Sciences, Carleton University, wrote that The mud at the bottom of B.C. fjords reveals that solar output drives climate change – and that we should prepare now for dangerous global cooling.
By analysing mud deposits in these fjords in British Columbia and correlating the findings with sun-spot activity, Patterson and his fellow researchers are consistently finding excellent correlations between the regular fluctuations in the brightness of the sun and earthly climate. This is not surprising. The sun and the stars are the ultimate source of all energy on the planet.
To quote him further: As the output of the sun varies, and with it, our star’s protective solar wind, varying amounts of galactic cosmic rays from deep space are able to enter our solar system and penetrate the Earth’s atmosphere. These cosmic rays enhance cloud formation which, overall, has a cooling effect on the planet. When the sun’s energy output is greater, not only does the Earth warm slightly due to direct solar heating, but the stronger solar wind generated during these “high sun” periods blocks many of the cosmic rays from entering our atmosphere. Cloud cover decreases and the Earth warms still more.
The opposite occurs when the sun is less bright. More cosmic rays are able to get through to Earth’s atmosphere, more clouds form, and the planet cools more than would otherwise be the case due to direct solar effects alone. This is precisely what happened from the middle of the 17th century into the early 18th century, when the solar energy input to our atmosphere, as indicated by the number of sunspots, was at a minimum and the planet was stuck in the Little Ice Age. These new findings suggest that changes in the output of the sun caused the most recent climate change. By comparison, CO2 variations show little correlation with our planet’s climate on long, medium and even short time scales …
Solar scientists predict that, by 2020, the sun will be starting into its weakest Schwabe solar cycle of the past two centuries, likely leading to unusually cool conditions on Earth. Beginning to plan for adaptation to such a cool period, one which may continue well beyond one 11-year cycle, as did the Little Ice Age, should be a priority for governments. It is global cooling, not warming, that is the major climate threat to the world … we need to continue research into this, the most complex field of science ever tackled, and immediately halt wasted expenditures on the King Canute-like task of ‘stopping climate change.’
Politicians, please take note.
Read my Climate Change posts in chronological order by using the Climate Change Log.