Global warming to leave UK out in the cold

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Global warming will not result in a warmer Mediterranean-type climate for Britain, according to a new study from the Public Marine Laboratory in Plymouth. Instead it will get much colder, with Cornwall becoming a centre for winter sports, ports around the country ice-bound for much of the year and icebergs a frequent sight around the western coast.

Global warming will not result in a warmer Mediterranean-type climate for Britain, according to a new study from the Public Marine Laboratory in Plymouth. Instead it will get much colder, with Cornwall becoming a centre for winter sports, ports around the country ice-bound for much of the year and icebergs a frequent sight around the western coast.

In an even more extreme scenario American scientists are predicting that the UK could develop a climate similar to that of Spitsbergen, the island 400 miles north of Norway's mainland and just 780 miles from the North Pole.

The culprit is the Gulf Stream, the warm water current that brings mild temperatures to Britain. The new research suggests it may be "pushed south" by global warming, which would mean that as the planet heats up, Britain, paradoxically, could actually get much colder.

The melting of the polar ice cap, triggered by man-made climate change, could result in average temperatures that are three to five degrees Celsius colder and a year-round climate more like that of Newfoundland on Canada's eastern coast, where the weather-beaten landscape is cooled throughout the year by Arctic currents.

"While the average temperature of the planet may go up, there's no reason why temperatures won't go down in places," said Professor Nicholas Owens, director of the Public Marine Laboratory, a part-government funded arm of the National Environment Research Council.

"The effect of warmer weather will be to melt the ice caps," said Professor Owens. "If you have more fresh water released by the ice it has the potential for pushing the Gulf Stream further south. If that happens you're pushing the warmth further south and bringing less heat to Western Europe. There is no reason why we shouldn't have icebergs breaking off and floating south. The impact on flora and fauna will be profound."

There is a second, potentially even more dramatic, threat to the Gulf Stream: global warming could simply "switch off" the current at source. The origins of the Gulf Stream are in the Greenland Sea, where water becomes dense and cold around the ice caps, squeezing the salt into the remaining water. This dense, cold water sinks to the bottom of the Greenland Sea and acts as a "pump", which helps push the ocean currents, including the Gulf Stream, around the globe.

But if the water fails to freeze, then the water will be too diluted to sink and the "pump" will slow down.

"If the ice formation doesn't happen then you won't get the convection," said Dr Peter Wadhams, a reader in polar studies at the Scott Polar Research Institute at Cambridge University. "The current slows down and while the water will get to us, it will be colder."

The change could begin to take effect within a few decades. Within just a few hundred years, perhaps only 200, the landscape would be dramatically altered.

Professor Owens said: "I wouldn't like to say which way it will go. But the smart money is on ski wear rather than flipflops. We will simply get the weather we should have for the latitude at which we live."

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