Saturday, 8 January 2011

Cold winter in a world of warming?

At a New Year’s Eve party I was approached by someone with a cynical grin, “Looks like your global warming theory thingy has gone badly wrong, it’s the coldest winter on record – how do you explain that?” It wasn’t the first time I’d heard such comments. My son recently came home from school and told me that his friend’s dad had said global warming was a myth, and that the recent cold snap ‘proved’ it.

The two very cold winters we’ve had in the UK have been seized upon by sceptics as evidence that global warming is a lie. Unusually cold winters may make some people think that scientists have got it all wrong. However, the truth is far deeper than this. There are now strong findings that suggest that the unusually cold winters of the last two years in the UK are in fact the result of heating elsewhere.

Record high temperatures were experienced in Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Burma and Pakistan, causing heatwaves and devastating harvests throughout 2010. In fact, record high temperatures were set in 17 countries. Two leading groups of scientists say it was the warmest since records began in 1850; another suggests it was the second-warmest. This decade also proved to be the hottest on record, with temperatures averaging 0.46C above the 1961-90 average.

Last June, during the International Polar Year conference, James Overland suggested that there are more cold and snowy winters to come in the UK as the rest of the world heats up. The reason? The exceptionally cold snowy 2009-2010 winter in Europe is connected with the loss of sea-ice in the Arctic, which results in a persistent ‘blocking event’ bringing in cold air over Europe from the north and the east.

The UK has experienced very cold temperatures recently. But that doesn’t ‘prove’ that global warming is wrong. Quite the opposite. The world is warming and record temperatures are being seen across huge swathes of the globe. The UK’s lower temperatures follow from loss of sea ice in the Arctic caused by global warming.

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