Global warming may be speeding up, fears scientist

Alarm at 'unusual' heatwaves across northern hemisphere

John Vidal, environment editor
Wednesday August 6, 2003
The Guardian

One of Europe's leading scientists yesterday raised the possibility
that the extreme heatwave now settled over at least 30 countries in
the northern hemisphere could signal that man-made climate change is

"The present heatwave across the northern hemisphere is worrying.
There is the small probability that man-made climate change is
proceeding much faster and stronger than expected," said Professor
John Schellnhuber, former chief scientific adviser to the German
government and now head of the UK's leading group of climate
scientists at the Tyndall centre.

Prof Schellnhuber said "the parching heat experienced now" could be
consistent "with a worst-case scenario [of global warming] that
nobody wants to come true". He warned that several months' research
would be needed to analyse data from around the world before
scientists could say why the heatwaves are so intense this year.

"What we are seeing is absolutely unusual," said Prof Schellnhuber.
"We know that global warming is proceeding apace, but most of us were
thinking that in 20-30 years time we would be seeing hot spells [like
this]. But it's happening now. Clearly extreme weather events will

Other climate scientists across Europe suggested the present heatwave
was perhaps the most intense experienced and linked to global warming.

"We've not seen such an extended period of dry weather [in Europe]
since records began," said Michael Knobelsdorf, a meteorologist at
the German weather service. "What's remarkable is that these extremes
of weather are happening at such short intervals, which suggests the
climate is unbalanced. Last year in Germany, we were under water. Now
we have one of the worst droughts in human memory."

Antonio Navarra, chief climatologist at Italy's National Geophysics
Institute, said the Mediterranean region was 2-3C warmer than usual
this summer.

Temperatures across parts of Europe have been a consistent 5C warmer
than average for several months, but the heatwaves have extended
across the northern hemisphere. Temperatures in some Indian states
reached 45-49C (113-120F), with more than 1,500 people dying as a
direct result. There have been near-record temperatures in Canada and
the US, Hawaii, China, parts of Russia and Alaska.

The intense heat in some places has given way to some of the most
severe monsoon rains on record, a phenomenon also consistent with
climate change models which predict extremes of weather. The
heatwaves are fuelling concern that climatologists may have
underestimated the temperature changes expected with global warming.
According to the UN's intergovernmental panel on climate change
(IPCC) - the consensus of the world's leading 2,000 climatologists -
the expected increase is up to 5C over the next century.

But a recent conference of leading atmospheric scientists in Berlin
concluded that the IPCC's models may have underestimated the cooling
effect of atmospheric soot, the airborne industrial waste of the
past. The upper limit of global warming, they suggested, should range
between 7C and 10C, which would severely affect food and water
supplies, traumatise most economies, and fundamentally change
everyday life.

The UN's World Meteorological Organisation warned last month that
extreme weather events would become more frequent. Yesterday Ken
Davidson, director of the WMO's climate programme, said: "The world
is seeing a change in general conditions and in extremes. We are
trying to understand if it's getting more frequent."

Climate scientists at the British government's Hadley centre last
week said they had new evidence that the heatwave affecting Europe
and North America could not be explained by natural causes, such as
sunspots or volcanoes, but must be partly due to man-made pollution.

Yesterday Dr Peter Stott, who led the research team, said: "Once we
factor in the effects of human activity, we find we can explain the
warming that is observed. Now we have gone a step further and shown
that the same thing is happening on the scale of continents."

Europe battles drought and fire

 The death toll from Portugal's biggest wildfires in decades rose to
11 after two bodies were found in charred woodland, but cooler
overnight temperatures enabled firefighters to contain all but three
major blazes

 13 Spaniards have died in the heatwave, and 30 taken to hospital
because of the heat in Cordoba, Seville and Huelva in Andalusia

 Parisians thronged the bank of the river Seine which has been
turned into an urban beach with sand, cafes, deckchairs and palm
trees as the temperature in the capital neared 40C (104F) again

 Amsterdam zoo fed its chimpanzees iced fruit and sprayed ostriches
with cold water to keep them cool as temperatures in the Dutch
capital edged towards 30C (86F), the Dutch news agency ANP reported

 Italy's national electricity grid said it had cut power to some big
industrial customers amid soaring demand from air conditioners

 Polish fire crews battled 35 forest fires on Monday and about a
quarter of the country's woodlands were at serious risk of fire after
temperatures topped 30C (86F) for much of July, authorities said

 In southern Bosnia, mines left over from the 1992-95 war have
barred firefighters from coming to grips with a fire that has raged
for three days near Mostar