- Temperatures have risen 6oC since the end of the last Ice Age, 10 000 years ago. They are officially predicted to rise another 60 by the end of this century.
- The 10 hottest years ever recorded have all taken place since 1990.
- The Greenland ice sheet is disappearing twice as fast as it was only 10 years ago. This has tripled the amount of ice dumped into the Atlantic since 1996. Rising temperatures create a layer of lubricating water under the glaciers, making them slide more easily into the sea. The sea levels are rising because of the meltdown. (The Guardian, 17th Feb 2006).
- Sea levels are rising twice as fast as they were. For the last 5 000 years, levels rose at 1mm per year; for the last 150 years, it has been about 2mm per year. Oceans are now set to rise about 40cm higher by 2100. Some islands will be affected by sea level rises. Tuvalu in the Pacific is already experiencing severe flooding. The islanders have already started to leave and the rest will have to do so in coming years if global warming continues.
- The thawing of the permafrost will accelerate the greenhouse effect by releasing vast amounts of greenhouse gases which are currently trapped in the soil. Permafrost takes up about a quarter of land surface in the northern hemisphere, and the upper layer holds at least 30% of the greenhouse gases stored in the world’s soil. (The Guardian, 2st1 Dec 2006).
- Central Alaska has seen “drunken forests” develop in vast swathes of the region. Trees lean over precipitously in random directions, because pockets of soil collapse when the surface permafrost melts. Another effect has been roads buckling and houses destabilised. Sections of the Alaskan Arctic pipeline now have to be refrigerated in order to keep the surrounding permafrost solid. (The Guardian, 21st Dec 2006).
- As recently as last August, scientists reported that in Siberia, the world’s largest peat bog is now thawing at an unprecedented rate. Vegetation which is “defrosting” can now be broken down by bacteria; in the process, billions of tonnes of methane (a greenhouse gas 20 times worse than CO2) will belch out. (The Guardian, 21st Dec 2006).
- The film, “The Day After Tomorrow”, depicted a world thrown into chaos by the slowing of the Gulf Stream. Reality is beginning to catch up. Researchers on a scientific expedition in the Atlantic Ocean measured the strength of the Gulf Stream current between Africa and the east coast of America and found that the circulation has slowed by 30% within 12 years.
The Gulf Stream is cold water conveyed from northern waters to the tropics; this is then warmed up and conveyed back to the north. Here, it cools down, then sinks and returns to the tropics…. with global warming, the Arctic ice sheet is melting, which reduces the salinity of the sea water. The Gulf Stream cannot sink so readily and thereby slows down the flow of cold water to the tropics, which in turn means the warm water to the north is slowed down. At the moment, the Gulf Stream delivers the equivalent of 1million power stations-worth of energy each year to northern Europe, propping up temperatures by 10C in some regions.
The final impact of any cooling effect will depend on whether it outweighs the global warming that, paradoxically, is driving it. According to climate modellers, the drop in temperature caused by a slowing of the Atlantic current will, in the long term, be swamped by a more general warming of the atmosphere. However, we may expect severe disruption to normal weather patterns.
Apart from the likes of David Bellamy, scientists across the world agree that global warming is occurring, on an increasing scale. Governments have made virtually no progress in halting it or even slowing it down. It must now be up to the people of the planet to redeem the human race.
Join the local campaign against climate change
To find out more about the next Birmingham Friends of the Earth meeting, click here and contact Maud Grainger.