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Friday, December 02, 2005

Global Warming Effects : Dawn Of A Mini Ice Age In Western Europe

New Scientist reports research findings cautioning that the ocean current that gives western europe its relatively balmy climate is stuttering, raising fears that it might fail entirely and plunge the continent into a mini ice age. A study of ocean circulation in the North Atlantic, finds a 30% reduction in the warm currents that carry water north from the Gulf Stream. The slow-down, which has long been predicted as a possible consequence of global warming, will give renewed urgency to intergovernmental talks on global environment. The North Atlantic is dominated by the Gulf Stream – currents that bring warm water north from the tropics, leading to warming winds that raise European temperatures by 5°C to 10°C. Harry Bryden’s team measured north-south heat flow last year, & found that the division of the waters appeared to have changed since previous surveys years ago . Independent research also confirm an impact downwards by around 30%. Measurements of surface temperatures in the North Atlantic indicate a strong warming trend during the 1990s, which seems now to have halted. Bryden speculates that the warming may have been part of a global temperature increase brought about by man-made greenhouse warming, and that this is now being counteracted by a decrease in the northward flow of warm water. After warming Europe, this flow comes to a halt in the waters off Greenland, sinks to the ocean floor and returns south. The water arriving from the south is already more saline and so more dense than Arctic seas, and is made more so as ice forms. Some climate models predict that global warming could lead to such a shutdown later this century. The last shutdown, which prompted a temperature drop of 5°C to 10°C in western Europe, was probably at the end of the last ice age, 12,000 years ago. There may also have been a slowing of Atlantic circulation during the Little Ice Age, which lasted sporadically from 1300 to about 1850 and created temperatures low enough to freeze the River Thames in London. This is really scary.

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