Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Water, water everywhere, and way too much to drink....

Some of you may know of Al Gore, the luckless but highly intelligent, climate-driven author and environmental activist from the United States. Luckless because he lost a U.S. Presidential Election (despite winning the popular vote) on a disputed legal technicality, and an environmental activist because he has dedicated his life to travelling the world to raise awareness of all sorts of climate related nastiness. You may have even watched his famous and hard-hitting documentary "An Inconvenient Truth". Then again, you may not have; this is where I come in.

Amongst the facts and figures of this documentary, Al Gore gives candid reflections on his work. One of the most prominent is the fact that he has given the same presentation thousands of times, in countries all over the world, to people from all walks of life. One of the most common issues he faces is disbelief in the face of evidence; basically, because the consequences are not occurring to them yet, they do not believe the problem exists. So, consider us as Europeans, even just as people from Britain, safe within our little sphere of unpredictable but non-extreme weather. Climate Change is far from our shores, right?

Sooooooooo wrong.

Fact One - Our planet redistributes heat. It has to. Heat from the equator naturally makes its way to the poles, and it does this by way of wind and ocean currents. It is fundamental to the steady climate of the planet. One of the largest and most famous of these ocean currents is called the North Atlantic Drift, which brings warm water from the southern Atlantic, which then cools and begins to head south again, like a huge ocean conveyor of heat to the north. 

Fact Two - At the end of the last ice age, retreating glaciers in what is now the northern U.S. and Canada left behind a huge body of melt-water, which are the origins of the Great Lakes. As these glaciers were retreating, this enormous body of water was held back by a ring of frozen glacial walls, which eventually gave out. This caused a massive influx of fresh water into the sea, diluting the salt content of the northern Atlantic, effectively shutting down that conveyor of heat we call the North Atlantic Drift.

Fact One and Two Consequence - With no heat exchange in that part of the world, northern Europe was plunged into a 1000yr ice age within 10 years. Britain had glaciers as far south as Cardiff. 

Fact Three - Temperatures rise far quicker at the poles than at the equator. A rise in the average temperature of 1 degree celsius at the equator will equal a corresponding rise of 12 degrees at the poles - again this is down to Fact One.

Fact Four - Greenland is a huge combination of floating water ice and land bound ice. When the former weakens, the latter begins to slide into the sea extremely fast. There is more fresh water bound within Greenland than in the Great Lakes combined, certainly more than the amount released into the ocean during the events of Fact Two. Greenland is melting at a furious rate.

Fact Three & Four Potential Consequence - The resulting influx of fresh water into the Northern Atlantic will shut down the North Atlantic Drift, causing the cessation of heat transfer to Europe. Within as little as a decade, average temperatures will plummet and Europe will enter an ice age of a duration far longer than 1000 years. Reflection of energy from the sun will vastly increase in the northern hemisphere, causing a corresponding dip in worldwide temperatures thought to be enough to trigger a global ice age. Fertile land will massively decrease, living space will be confined, wars over resources and food will be rife.

So, just in case you're sitting there thinking that Global Warming is rubbish because we've had a bit of snow, you're a bit far off the mark. Global Warming is something that triggers Climate Change, which can swing in either direction. If the ice shelves of the Arctic and Greenland decide to give up the ghost, it can only take ten years for the entire planet to become inhospitable.

Unless something is done now, of course.

Just Keeping Things Cheery,

Ger Morris


  1. But, regardless what we do or even can do in terms of global warming this series of events is inevitable and cyclical. Eventually we are going to face a new ice age, and no matter what we do we can't escape that fact.

    However, that doesn't mean I agree with our constant pollution or overuse of our resources or even our wasteful nature as a race. Those issues are the ones we need to focus on rather than whether or not you're going have to become a soft Northern poof and move to Bristol.

    1. Oh yeah, the planet inevitably has natural cycles of warm and cold, no doubt. The highlight here is just how quickly it can become a factor, and how much of that change will be due to human contributions to climate change. I'll be moving to yours if things get chilly up here, you know.