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World faces hottest year ever, as El Niño combines with global warming

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  • Mike Neuman
    World faces hottest year ever, as El Niño combines with global warming By Cahal Milmo Published: 01 January 2007 A combination of global warming and the El
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 3, 2007
      World faces hottest year ever, as El Niño combines with global
      By Cahal Milmo
      Published: 01 January 2007

      A combination of global warming and the El Niño weather system is set
      to make 2007 the warmest year on record with far-reaching
      consequences for the planet, one of Britain's leading climate experts
      has warned.

      As the new year was ushered in with stormy conditions across the UK,
      the forecast for the next 12 months is of extreme global weather
      patterns which could bring drought to Indonesia and leave California
      under a deluge.

      The warning, from Professor Phil Jones, director of the Climatic
      Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, was one of four
      sobering predictions from senior scientists and forecasters that 2007
      will be a crucial year for determining the response to global warming
      and its effect on humanity.

      Professor Jones said the long-term trend of global warming - already
      blamed for bringing drought to the Horn of Africa and melting the
      Arctic ice shelf - is set to be exacerbated by the arrival of El
      Niño, the phenomenon caused by above-average sea temperatures in the

      Combined, they are set to bring extreme conditions across the globe
      and make 2007 warmer than 1998, the hottest year on record. It is
      likely temperatures will also exceed 2006, which was declared in
      December the hottest in Britain since 1659 and the sixth warmest in
      global records.

      Professor Jones said: "El Niño makes the world warmer and we already
      have a warming trend that is increasing global temperatures by one to
      two tenths of a degrees celsius per decade. Together, they should
      make 2007 warmer than last year and it may even make the next 12
      months the warmest year on record."

      The warning of the escalating impact of global warming was echoed by
      Jim Hansen, the American scientist who, in 1988, was one of the first
      to warn of climate change.

      In an interview with The Independent, Dr Hansen predicted that global
      warming would run out of control and change the planet for ever
      unless rapid action is taken to reverse the rise in carbon emissions.
      Dr Hansen said: "We just cannot burn all the fossil fuels in the
      ground. If we do, we will end up with a different planet.

      "I mean a planet with no ice in the Arctic, and a planet where
      warming is so large that it's going to have a large effect in terms
      of sea level rises and the extinction of species."

      His call for action is shared by Sir David King, the Government's
      chief scientific adviser, who said that 2006 had shown that
      the "discussion is now over" on whether climate change is happening.
      Writing in today's Independent, Sir David says progress has been made
      in the past year but it is "essential" that a global agreement on
      emissions is struck quickly. He writes: "Ultimately, only heads of
      state, working together, can provide the new level of global
      leadership we need to steer the world on a path towards a sustainable
      and prosperous future. We need to remember: action is affordable -
      inaction is not."

      The demands came as the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), the
      United Nations agency that deals with climate prediction, issued a
      warning that El Niño is already established over the tropical Pacific
      basin. It is set to bring extreme weather across a swath of the
      planet from the Americas and south-east Asia to the Horn of Africa
      for at least the first four months of 2007.

      El Niño, or "the Christ child" because it is usually noticed around
      Christmas, is a weather pattern occurring every two to seven years.
      The last severe El Niño, in 1997 and 1998, caused more than 2,000
      deaths and a worldwide damage bill of more than £20bn.

      The WMO said its latest readings showed that a "moderate" El Niño,
      with sea temperatures 1.5C above average, was taking place which, in
      the worst case scenario, could develop into an extreme weather
      pattern lasting up to 18 months, as in 1997-98. The UN agency noted
      that the weather pattern was already having "early and intense"
      effects, including drought in Australia and dramatically warm seas in
      the Indian Ocean, which could affect the monsoons. It warned the El
      Niño could also bring extreme rainfall to parts of east Africa which
      were last year hit by a cycle of drought and floods.

      Its effect on the British climate is difficult to predict, according
      to experts. But it will probably add to the likelihood of record-
      breaking temperatures in the UK.

      The return of El Niño

      * Aside from the seasons, El Niño and its twin, La Niña, are the two
      largest single causes of variability in the world's climate from year
      to year.

      Both are dictated by shifts in temperature of the water in the
      tropical Pacific basin between Australia and South America. Named
      from the Spanish words for "Christ child" and "the girl" because of
      their proximity to Christmas, they lead to dramatic shifts in the
      entire system of oceanic and atmospheric factors from air pressure to

      A significant rise in sea temperature leads to an El Niño event
      whereas a fall in temperature leads to La Niña.

      The cause of the phenomenon is not fully understood but in an El
      Niño "event" the pool of warm surface water is forced eastwards by
      the loss of the westerly trade winds. The sea water evaporates,
      resulting in drenching rains over South America, particularly Peru
      and Ecuador, as well as western parts of the United States such as

      Parts of the western Pacific, including Indonesia and Australia,
      suffer drought. The effects can last for anything from a few weeks to
      18 months, causing extreme weather as far afield as India and east

      The co-relation with global warming is as yet unclear. Archaeological
      evidence shows El Niños and La Niñas have been occurring for 15,000
      years. But scientists are investigating whether climate change is
      leading to an increase in their intensity or duration.
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