×
  • ×

    Global Warming May Trigger an Ice Age Soon

    The Big Chill could be closer than we think. Research conducted
    by scientists at the US Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute has
    found a dramatic change in the circulation of the waters of the
    North Atlantic which could ‘turn off’ the Gulf Stream and catapult
    Europe into an Ice Age. The shift, cited by Woods Hole as being
    ‘the largest and most dramatic oceanic change ever measured in the
    era of modern instruments,’ could eliminate the Gulf Stream in as
    little as two or three years. Although northern Europe is at the
    same latitude as cold spots like Labrador, the region experiences a
    mild climate because the Gulf Stream brings in warm air from the
    tropics. More specifically, the Atlantic Ocean’s cold, salty water
    sinks to the bottom of the ocean floor and flows into the Pacific,
    which then forces warm water from the Pacific to flow up toward the
    coast of Europe, bringing moderate weather with it.

    Unfortunately, global warming is shifting the fragile balances
    of cold, and warm water, putting us in danger of what Britain’s
    Independent calls a ‘nightmare scenario where farmland
    turns to tundra and winter temperatures drop below -20C.’ A
    moderate scenario would involve a ‘little ice age’ like the one
    that hit Europe in 1400 and caused harsh winters, desertification,
    and drought. Previously, scientists believed that climate change
    took place over long stretches of time. However, the new research
    indicates not only that change can happen as rapidly as within a
    few years, but that this change can be triggered like a light
    switch.

    Unfortunately, this switch is not easy to flip the other way,
    and the climate shift could cause harsh weather for decades — or
    centuries. One would hope that the threat of a permanent change in
    the climate — a long-lasting winter — would cause the Bush
    administration to call for a war on global warming on the scale of
    its war on terror. Sadly, while oil execs and automakers are
    filling his campaign war chest, prospects for that bold move remain
    chilly. — Erica Wetter

    Go there>>
    How
    Global Warming May Cause the Next Ice Age

    Related Links:

    Comments? Story tips?
    Write a letter to the editor

    Like this? Want more?
    Subscribe to Utne
    magazine

    Published on Feb 1, 2004

    UTNE

    In-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.