Sunday, 24 March 2013

Brrrlin's long winter puts global warming on ice

Welcome to Brrrlin!  Last year at this time, the trees were budding, the flowers blooming and the birds singing.  Now everybody has the same questions on the tip of their tongue: why's it so cold?  When will it end??  And whatever happened to global warming???

It's still here.  In fact, this is probably how it should look... for those of us in northwestern Europe it should, anyway.  We can blame the Gulf Stream for that.  Or rather, we can blame the humans, since it is humans that are messing it up.

It’s a common misconception that spring arrives in Europe, Canada and the rest of the Northern Hemisphere because that is when the days start getting longer and the earth starts getting nearer to the sun.  Actually, the arrival of summer has nada to do with the length of the days and the earth’s distance from the sun.  If there was any relationship between those things then it would be impossible for Australia to experience scorching summers at the same time of year when Europe and Canada are freezing cold.    

To understand Berlin's cool summer in 2012 and its extended edition of winter 2013, one first has to understand that its summer comes here largely courtesy of the Gulf Stream.  If it wasn't for the Gulf Stream, northwestern Europe, Britain and North America would be damn cold all year round. 

The Gulf Stream is part of a massive, circular current that runs through the oceans, bringing warm water and air up from the equator, to the Atlantic ocean.  As the equatorial waters heat up in spring and summer, so does the Gulf Stream; in turn, it shares its warm wealth with Atlantic areas of Europe and North America.  How much wealth?  The warm air and water carried by the Gulf Stream is “comparable to the power generation of a million nuclear power plants” according to NASA.  Without the Gulf Stream, “Europe's average temperature would likely drop 5 to 10°C (9 to 18°F).”  In Europe, winter doesn’t ever really end... the Gulf Stream just pushes its 'pause' button each year, with a gust of imported heat from below. 
In 2005, however, the Gulf Stream was reported to be slowing dramatically.  The slowing of the Gulf Stream is "intimately linked with dramatic regional cooling" according to Bill McGuire, Benfield Professor of Geophysical Hazards & Director of the Benfield Hazard Research Centre, University College London (try saying that five times fast).  

"Just 10,000 years ago, during a climatic cold snap known as the Younger Dryas," he continues, "the current was severely weakened, causing northern European temperatures to fall by as much as 10 degrees. Ten thousand years before that [...] when most of the UK was reduced to a frozen wasteland, the Gulf Stream had just two-thirds of the strength it has now."

"It is the Gulf Stream, and associated currents, that allow strawberries to thrive along the Norwegian coast, while at comparable latitudes in Greenland glaciers wind their way right down to sea level."

But the melt-off of Arctic ice, caused (or at the very least, aggravated) by man made warming, has poured "huge volumes of fresh water into the North Atlantic" and thrown the Gulf Stream out of whack.  It is now returning much more cooled water from the North Pole, and moving northward more slowly than before.  As a double whammy, melting Arctic ice is allowing any heat that is trapped in the water to disperse into the cold air. The warm waters of the Gulf Stream are being attacked by cold water from below, and cold air from above, resulting in a paradoxical Atlantic cooling caused by, well, warming.  

Many people I meet in Berlin seem mildly alarmed about melting glaciers, reserving the larger part of their anxiety for the polar bears and whales that are becoming extinct because of it.  ‘But hey,' I've heard many of these same people saying, 'warmer weather won’t be such a bad thing for me - I hate winter.’ Actually, the melting glaciers should scare the crap out of anybody who hates winter.  In a country where summer only comes courtesy of warm water, the melting glaciers could spell the end of warm seasons altogether. 

Climate prediction involves far too many variables for even the cleverest human scientist to calculate, so no one can say whether another ice age is definitely on the way, or whether we should instead be expecting heatwaves and drought.  What climatologists do agree on is that the seasons will not return to normal as long as the Earth keeps warming  up.  As McGuire says, man made global warming is “nothing more nor less than a great planetary experiment, many of the outcomes of which we cannot predict.” By adding to it - by driving cars, wasting electricity and cutting down trees - we are playing with fire and ice.


  1. I have come to the conclusion that we all have a little blame global warming and its consequences and guilt even more politicians who do not slow down.

  2. One would have to be very stupid to believe that record cold weather is caused by global warming!

  3. Unlike you, Copie, who are so incredibly intelligent that you use petty sh*t slinging instead of well-researched facts to back up your point of view!!

    Why don't you come back to me when you have something more than a knee-jerk reaction to add to the discussion?