|A global ocean circulation between deep, colder water and warmer, surface water strongly influences regional climates around the world. Image courtesy Argonne National Laboratory.
Much of Europe is in the throes of a killer deep freeze. Hundreds of homeless and poor people have died already and to make matters worse, the gas supplies can not meet the increased demand. Europe winter claims 250 lives, sends ferry aground
Hundreds of people were plucked to safety on Saturday after a ferry caught in a snow storm ran aground off Italy, as a vicious cold snap that has claimed over 250 lives across Europe refused to ease its clench.
Ukraine has suffered the heaviest toll of 122 deaths, including many people who froze to death in the streets, as temperatures plunged to as low as minus 38.1 degrees Celsius (minus 36.5 Fahrenheit) in parts of the continent.
But as Europe huddled indoors for warmth, Russian gas giant Gazprom said it could not satisfy western Europe's demand for more energy.And I am sure there are the climate deniers who have heard about this story and said "Har de Har Har, Where is all the global warming we keep hearing about??"
Well it turns out that scientists have predicted that a deep freeze in Europe would be the result of a steady rise in ocean temperatures. This story came from NASA in 2004.
A Chilling Possibility: By disturbing a massive ocean current, melting Arctic sea ice might trigger colder weather in Europe and North America.
March 5, 2004: Global warming could plunge North America and Western Europe into a deep freeze, possibly within only a few decades.
That's the paradoxical scenario gaining credibility among many climate scientists. The thawing of sea ice covering the Arctic could disturb or even halt large currents in the Atlantic Ocean. Without the vast heat that these ocean currents deliver--comparable to the power generation of a million nuclear power plants--Europe's average temperature would likely drop 5 to 10°C (9 to 18°F)...
Some scientists worry that melting Arctic sea ice will dump enough freshwater into the North Atlantic to interfere with sea currents. Some freshwater would come from the ice-melt itself, but the main contributor would be increased rain and snow in the region. Retreating ice cover exposes more of the ocean surface, allowing more moisture to evaporate into the atmosphere and leading to more precipitation.
Because saltwater is denser and heavier than freshwater, this "freshening" of the North Atlantic would make the surface layers more buoyant. That's a problem because the surface water needs to sink to drive a primary ocean circulation pattern known as the "Great Ocean Conveyor." Sunken water flows south along the ocean floor toward the equator, while warm surface waters from tropical latitudes flow north to replace the water that sank, thus keeping the Conveyor slowly chugging along. An increase in freshwater could prevent this sinking of North Atlantic surface waters, slowing or stopping this circulation.
There is a 100% chance that sub-intelligent climate deniers (and stand-up comics) around the world will use the images and news from the European deep freeze as proof that global warming is hooey. After all, why should mankind be concerned about the ice caps melting and the oceans warming when there are people are freezing to death. The 2004 article from NASA points out the reason for concern.
A map of the world will show how most of Europe caught in the deep freeze is above the 45 deg. latitude line. In the USA, you have to go just about to Michigan's UP to get that far North. The weather that is crippling Europe is typical for a UP winter. In other words, get used to it.
The long term outlook for Europe isn't very rosy. These fierce deep freezes will become more common over the years, and this will result in arguments and political turmoil between Nations over the limited natural gas supply that comes from Russia. Talk about a new cold war.
update: There have been news stories blaming the historic cold spell on air currents and high pressure systems instead of on disruptions in the ocean current. This is silly. The mass of water in the oceans is some 250 times the mass of air in the atmosphere (1.3 E+21 kg versus 5 E+18 kg). And because a pound of water can hold four times more heat than a pound of air can hold, the total heat capacity of the oceans is 1,000 times greater than the heat capacity of the atmosphere. Weather patterns originate in the oceans, the atmosphere is just the messenger. Saying that the atmosphere is driving the weather is like saying the little bird is driving the rhino.