Western Europe might actually get colder as a result of global warming, because the melting Arctic ice cap is cooling off the warm ocean current that is largely responsible for Europe’s mild weather, scientists and environmentalists said.
If the ice cap in Greenland and the Arctic continues to melt at its current rate, Europe’s temperatures would take a sharp dip after five or more decades of increasingly warm weather. That turnaround could spell trouble for regions that by then will have adapted to more tropical conditions, the experts told reporters Friday at a U.N. climate change conference here.
“To mitigate the advancement, the increase, the acceleration of that warming, we would need to take really radical steps, far more extreme than [the Kyoto Protocol on global warming] is proposing,” Jonathan Bamber of the University of Bristol said.
Bamber said increased influxes of water from the Artic could trigger a slowdown or diversion of the Gulf Stream, the current that sweeps warm water from the Gulf of Mexico up to the North Atlantic, warming the waters and climate of Western Europe.
Bamber also said that in the next five years, Europe could expect increasingly hazardous conditions in the Alps. Last summer was the first ever that the Matterhorn and Mont Blanc were closed for fear of rocks loosened by melted ice and snow.
And during Europe’s record heat wave this summer, 10 percent of the “permanent” ice in the Italian Alps melted away, said Damiano Di Simine, president of the Italian chapter of the International Commission for the Protection of the Alps.
He told reporters that 53 billion cubic feet of fresh water had been lost, a resource critical to northern Italy’s water-intensive crops, like rice.
“But every year we lose large quotas of water, between 5 and 10 percent of the Alpine ice, so within about 20 or 30 years, well lose it all,” he said.
Earlier this week, the United Nations Environment Program issued a report saying that global warming was threatening the world’s ski resorts, with melting snow at lower altitudes forcing the sport to move higher and higher up mountains, and threatening to make downhill skiing disappear altogether at some resorts.
Despite grim the prognosis, panelist Bill Hare, Climate Policy Director of Greenpeace International, cited European efforts to reduce greenhouse emissions as significant progress toward implementing policies and technologies that can slow climate change.
The Kyoto treaty calls for countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, which are blamed for global warming. The U.N. conference is grappling with the possibility that the pact might never come into force because the United States has rejected it and Russia hasn’t ratified it.
“The hardest and most fundamental problem to be overcome is the U.S. at present,” Hare said. “And unless and until the U.S. starts to move, everyone else will be that much slower.”