November 22, 2005

That nonexistant global warming.

What's it going to be bringing to your neck of the woods? Nature's Michael Hopkins has a continent-by-continent look at the climatic challenges in store as the planet's average temperature goes up.

Hurricane Catarina off Brazil, 2004

Warming of the Atlantic Ocean may lead to more tropical cyclones such as Hurricane Catarina — the first verifiable hurricane ever recorded in the South Atlantic — seen here as it spiraled off the coast of Brazil in March, 2004. [Image: Jacques Descloitres, MODIS/NASA]


As Europe warms, the north of the continent is tipped to gain a more 'Mediterranean' climate, while the Mediterranean countries themselves swelter through increasingly frequent droughts. Potentially good news, then, for British grape-growers, who are starting to focus their attentions on the market for fizz as northern France's Champagne region grows warmer. But bad news for agriculture elsewhere, not to mention the ski resorts of the Alps.

Traditional tourism hot spots such as Spain and Greece could find that their summer temperatures are simply too sizzling, tempting holidaymakers to vacation further north. Extreme heatwaves such as the one that struck western Europe in 2003 are set to increase in frequency in a warming world (see 'Extreme heat on the rise'), causing wildfires, loss of crops, and a rise in summer deaths.

Phil Jones, director of the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK, points out that adapting to similar extremes in future will mean wider use of air conditioning. This will boost power use and make it more difficult for governments to meet the greenhouse emission targets set by the Kyoto Protocol.

North America

Industries that rely on melt water from winter snows could be hit hard by temperature rises that cause more of this precipitation to fall as rain. Agriculture on the US west coast, for example, depends on the spring runoff of water from the Rocky Mountains to sustain crops through the parched summer. If this water arrives early as rain, rather than wintering in the mountain tops, then farmers and hydroelectric engineers may have to adapt to marshal these resources.

"Effectively, you could be losing a free reservoir," says Nigel Arnell, who studies water and climate at the University of Southampton, UK.

The melting of Arctic ice is causing concern for ecosystems in the north of the continent. The northern coasts of Canada and neighbouring Greenland spend much of their year mired in the polar ice cap. And environmentalists are worried that polar bears could be big losers if this ice begins to fragment or pull away from the mainland, leaving them unable to patrol large territories in search of food.


Posted by Magpie at November 22, 2005 04:34 PM | Environment | Technorati links |