2009 is set to be one of the top-five warmest years on record!
The new year begun. time for a fresh start, too? too? well, not before we have paid heed to the alarm signals that are beeping away furiously. Already.
British climate scientists have predicted that the average global temperature for the year 2009 will be more than 0.4 degrees Celsius above the long-term average (1961-1990) of 14oC. This would make it the warmest year since 2005.
Currently, the warmest year on record is 1998, which saw average temperatures of 14.52oC. El Niño was one of the strongest influences on the weather. (Wondering what this is? See Box)
But then, the 2008 weather was quite cool.
Yes, it was, thanks to the La Niña. But hey, this does not mean that the threat of global warming has been abated. Even if 2008 was on balance chillier than 2007, it still ranks as the 10th warmest year on record.
“The problem is that people are confusing weather with climate”, says Susan Solomon, a top scientist on the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC).
Weather vs. climate
The difference between weather and climate is a measure of time. Weather is the condition of the atmosphere over a short period of time, and climate is how the atmosphere “behaves” over relatively long periods of time. In other words, climate is the average of weather over time and space. Say in a particular year, the weather of an area is cool due to high humidity.
But, its overall climate might be getting warmer. “Weather is important locally, and from year to year. But what you really have to look at when you are interested in climate is the larger scale – the whole world – and the longer term,” says Susan Solomon. Another problem is that people do not often understand the difference between climate change and global warming.
Climate change vs. global warming
Many people use the terms ‘global warming’ and ‘climate change’ interchangeably. But, they are two distinct concepts.
Global warming refers to the increase of Earth’s average surface temperature and lower atmosphere, due to a build-up of greenhouse gases (like water vapour, carbon dioxide, ozone and methane) in the atmosphere. This is known as the ‘greenhouse effect’.
Climate change, on the other hand, is a broader term that refers to long-term changes in climate, including average temperature and precipitation. Global warming is one of the main causes of changes in climate.
So, the crux of the matter is that even if the weather for a particular year or period of time may be cooler, the threat of global warming persists. The entire climate pattern of the planet is changing. And… BEWARE! According to researchers at the British Met Office, there is a growing probability of record temperatures after 2009.
El Niño and La Niña
El Niño and La Niña are officially defined as ‘sustained sea surface temperature anomalies of magnitude greater than 0.5°C across the central tropical Pacific Ocean’. El Niño is an abnormal warming of surface ocean waters in the eastern tropical Pacific. It may cause floods, droughts, and other disturbances. It mainly has signatures in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans. The anti-El Niño effect is known as La Niña. It means ‘the little girl’ in Spanish, as opposed to ‘the little boy’ for El Niño, referring to the Christ child. It mostly causes the oppo-site effects of El Niño. For example, El Niño would cause a wet period in the Midwestern US, while La Niña would typically cause a dry period in the area. So, what causes these temperature fluctuations in surface waters?
There are several theories, but no one can say for sure. Yet, scientists agree that they play a crucial role in defining the weather patterns of the planet.