Tuesday 23 January 2018

Concern as hot February shatters global records

The story is the same around the world: the scourge of global warming is back again with a vengeance

THREATENED: Polar bears depend on Arctic sea ice to survive — but their natural habit is disappearing fast as global temperatures rise
THREATENED: Polar bears depend on Arctic sea ice to survive — but their natural habit is disappearing fast as global temperatures rise

Robin McKie

Our planet went through a dramatic change last month. Climate experts revealed that February was the warmest month in recorded history, surpassing the previous global monthly record - set in December. An unprecedented heating of our world is now under way.

With the current El Nino weather event beginning to tail off, meteorologists believe that this year is now destined to be the hottest on record, warmer even than 2015.

Nor is this dramatic jump in global temperature a freak triggered by an unusually severe El Nino, say researchers. "It is the opposite," said Professor David Vaughan of the British Antarctic Survey. "This is a catch-up of a recent hiatus that has occurred in rising global temperatures. We are returning to normality: rising temperatures. This is an absolute warning of the dangers that lie ahead."

Those dangers are now being dramatically demonstrated around the globe: drought in the Marshall Islands in the Pacific, which has forced the government there to issue a state of emergency warning; France observed its warmest winter since records began; while the sea ice that has formed in the Arctic this winter is about a million square kilometres less than its average for this time of year. This latter feature will have profound consequences. "A low sea-ice level in winter will promote a low level of sea ice next summer," said Vaughan. "Arctic summer ice - which is dwindling dramatically - is changing the region."

In particular, disappearing sea ice allows ships to get to once unreachable regions in high latitudes. As a result, plans to drill for oil and gas in the Arctic - a prospect that horrifies environmental groups - are being prepared by major oil companies.

Last month's jump in global temperatures represents an increase of 1.35°C above pre-industrial levels and takes the world close to the 1.5°C rise that last year's Paris climate deal was supposed to prevent. "Last month's figure is a one-off and it remains to be seen if temperatures are going to continue to rise this steeply," said Professor Richard Betts, head of climate research at Exeter University. "We are still not at an established 1.5C rise, but this is a worrying sign."

Scientists and politicians are keen to hold global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels because they fear that a world that warms to such a level will experience severe loss of ice, particularly from Greenland's glaciers, and that the melting will trigger considerable rises in sea levels.

Scientists warn there are many island states in the Pacific that will disappear if the planet undergoes that sort of warming. In addition, if the temperature increases to 1.5°C, it will combine with ocean acidification to dissolve the world's already threatened coral reefs.

© Guardian

Sunday Independent

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