North America, Europe may cool in warmer world
Parts of Europe and North America could get drastically colder if warming Atlantic ocean currents are halted by a surprise side-effect of global warming, scientists said on Wednesday.
The possible shut-down of the Gulf Stream is one of several catastrophic changes — ranging from collapses of fish stocks to more frequent forest fires — that could be triggered by human activities, they said in a book launched in Sweden. “In the worst case it (the Gulf Stream) could shut down... it might even happen this century,” said Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. “This would trigger a regional cooling, but not an Ice Age.”
Climate models indicated a surge of fresh water into the North Atlantic from a melting of northern glaciers caused by global warming could stop the current that sweeps warm waters from the Gulf of Mexico towards Europe.
“The Eastern coast of Canada and the United States would also be affected. This is sometimes wrongly perceived as a European problem by American politicians,” he told Reuters. He said the Gulf Stream had collapsed about 20 times in the past 100,000 years, most recently at the tail of the last Ice Age about 8,000 years ago after an abrupt melting of icecaps. If the Gulf Stream stopped, average temperatures might fall by 5-10 Celsius (10-20F) in Scandinavia or by 3-4C in Germany.
By contrast, global warming, widely blamed on emissions of gases like carbon dioxide from cars and factories, is expected to raise global average temperatures by 1.4-5.8C by 2100. The U.N. Kyoto Protocol on limiting global warming hinges on Russia’s yes or no. Moscow is undecided and President Vladimir Putin said his country might benefit from warmer world weather, though a halt of Gulf Stream would make northwest Russia colder.
Rahmstorf’s study was included in a new book, “Global Change and the Earth System: a planet under pressure”, which looks at the impact of the surge in the human population to six billion people, ranging from stripped forests to rising temperatures. —Reuters