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Drought or Flood?Which One Will Hit Your Town?

Global warming brings flooding?and droughts. It all depends on where you live. The Western U.S. and the West Coast will continue to have droughts, due to lack of snow melt and a drop in rainfall. Meanwhile, massive flooding is predicted for the U.K. And now we know that the ocean rises higher on the coasts than it does in the "middle," making things even worse.

What causes too much rain in one area and a drought in another? Kate Ravilious writes in New Scientist that the Western drought is partially caused by melting Arctic sea ice. Towers of warm air form above the areas where there is no more sea ice, and that disturbs the flow of air in the atmosphere around them, which affects rainfall. Researchers Jacob Sewall and Lisa Cirbus Sloan found that such towers formed between Norway and Greenland, deflecting winter storms that would otherwise have passed over the West Coast of the U.S. As Arctic sea ice melts, the annual rainfall may drop by as much as 30% from Seattle to Los Angeles, and inland as far as the Rocky Mountains.

As temperatures rise over the next 50 years, the area of Arctic sea ice is predicted to shrink by as much as 50% in some areas during the summer. Sewall says, "Winter sea ice acts like an insulating lid. When the lid is reduced, more heat can escape from the ocean to warm the atmosphere."

9830,1200347,00.html,Paul Brown writes in The Guardian that 4 million people in the U.K. may lose their homes to flooding in the next 50 years, according to a government report.

Britain's chief scientist, Sir David King, says "safety valves" need to be created in cities to channel floodwater. The 150-year-old drains in Britain's older cities, as well as in many other European cities, are in danger of being overwhelmed by large amounts of water. Some urban areas may need to be abandoned or relocated. "Some structures such as oil refineries could be relocated [inland]. However, other assets such as coastal towns will be difficult to relocate," King says. "In Wales and other parts of the U.K., erosion could threaten beaches and therefore tourism."

Jenny Hogan writes in New Scientist that satellites show ocean levels are rising faster near the coasts than in mid-ocean. Researchers Simon Holgate and Philip Woodworth think the oceans may act like water in a bathtub: If you splash water in the bath, the waves travel outwards and lap over the edge of the tub.

Other parts of Europe are planning for the future as well. In certain parts of the Netherlands, some new developers must build their houses on stilts and provide each family that moves in with an escape boat.

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