The term "global warming" suggests that we can expect temperatures across the planet to become increasingly hotter with every passing year.
Australia's blazing hot weather certainly broke all records during 2013, with summer and winter temperatures that were 1.2C above the long term average. In its annual report, the Bureau of Meteorology announced that last year was the hottest since records began in 1910. The report revealed that temperatures had remained consistently above average for most of the last ten years, and that this trend appeared to be in line with an increase in temperatures worldwide due to global warming:
"The Australian region warming is very similar to that seen at the global scale, and the past year emphasises that the warming trend continues," the Bureau stated. Bureau spokesman, Neil Plummer, commented further: "Most of the warming has occurred since around 1950, and that's consistent with the global pattern."
Plummer confirmed that statistics compiled by the Australian bureau and its global counterparts had produced a "body of evidence that we're all seeing a warming over Australia and a warming world".
Despite this evidence, the Australian government has decided to stop funding research into global warming, and has also agreed to abolish a carbon tax that targets high-polluters, leading to strong criticism from environmentalists.
So record highs in Australia appear to support global warming theories, but 2014 has already been a record breaker in the United States for exactly the opposite reason, as some states are experiencing the coldest temperatures recorded for 20 years. Residents across the eastern half of North America are actually being advised not to leave their homes as it is "dangerous" for them to go outside without proper protective clothing.
"The cold is the real killer here," Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard said on Monday as he asked schools and businesses to remain closed for another day. "In 10 minutes you could be dead without the proper clothes."
Polar-powered storm "Hercules" has assaulted the eastern half of the U.S. with sub-zero temperatures that have reached as low as -30C to -50C in some areas. Around 140 million people are having to function in treacherous conditions which have grounded almost 4,500 flights.
In Minnesota, state schools were closed for the first time in 17 years, along with schools in Chicago, Milwaukee, St Louis , Washington D.C. and even schools as far south as Atlanta.
So does this latest spectacular freeze mean that the idea of global warming has no basis?
The icy temperatures appear to provide fodder for climate change skeptics, but in fact isolated cold spells are largely irrelevant when it comes to measuring the overall trend in global warming.
Global warming occurs over a protracted period of time, so day-to-day variations do not have a great impact on the overall scenario, and in general winters in the U.S. have been getting steadily warmer over the past 100 years, and, ironically, the latest cold snap could actually be adding even more weight to the global warming theory.
The big freeze currently chilling the United States are arising due to the effects of a polar vortex, a whirlwind of intensely cold and dense air that originates in the polar regions. Strong winds usually trap these vortexes near their place of origin, but rapid stratospheric warming can disrupt the normal pattern of a polar vortex. This phenomenon is caused when huge atmospheric waves, known as Rossby waves, move upward from the troposphere into the next layer of air, known as the stratosphere. The energy exchange created by the influx of Rossby waves generates a circulation in the stratosphere resulting in air sinking in the polar latitudes and rising air in the lowest latitudes. As the air nears earth, it warms, which can throw the circulation off balance causing it to split apart and move southwards, resulting in the type of weather currently being experienced by the eastern half of the United States.
So how is this process linked to climate change?
It is no secret that Arctic ice is melting due to rising global temperatures, and consequently the open seas are absorbing more heat from the sun, causing the region to warm at a disproportionately rapid rate compared to the rest of the planet, in fact, almost twice as fast. This then affects the jet stream process which is driven by opposing temperatures in northerly and tropical latitudes. The jet stream, a narrow band of strong air currents, usually westerly, which encircle the globe several miles above the earth, generally acts as the boundary between the cold north and the warm south. Some scientists have postulated that leaking arctic air will weaken the jet stream as it will not create the differential in northerly and southerly temperatures is necessary to drive the stream.
This theory seems to be substantiated by the fact that the stream is already flowing off its normal course and veering much further south than usual, but as the Arctic ice melt is a relatively recent phenomenon, there is not yet sufficient long-term data to provide conclusive evidence to link influxes of extreme cold weather, such as storm Hercules, with Arctic warming.
The United States is not the only place to be affected by extreme weather conditions, however, as the United Kingdom is slowly being submerged under a barrage of torrential rain. After weeks of storms and high tides, over 350 flood warnings are currently in place in every single area of England and Wales, including three very severe warnings where "danger to life" is threatened. Yet more rain and further floods are forecast for the rest of this week, with emergency services declaring that they have not been able to deal with existing flood damage due to new waves of flooding occurring almost daily.
The extreme wet weather has also been linked to the effects of global warming and was predicted after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) latest report was published last year. The report, named as Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis and compiled by a team of scientists, concluded that each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850, and that was 95% certain that humans are the “dominant cause” of changes to the planet’s climate.
A conference was held in Wales to discuss the findings outlined in the report, where Dr Vicky Pope, of the Met Office, predicted that countries which normally experience high rainfall will see even more rain, while drier countries will become even more arid.
“Where you get heavy rain, it’s more likely to get heavier, but we just don’t know if it will be more frequent,” she said.
The rains in the U.K. are due to cease over the next few days, but the nightmare is set to continue for Britain as snow is forecast for the following week.
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