Assertion, unsupported by fact, is nugatory. Surmise and general abuse, in however elegant language, ought not to pass for truth. Junius

2006/10/28

London: 51°30' N. — Labrador City: 52° 54' N.

An article in the Guardian yesterday reported the Gulf Stream, the enormous North Atlantic current responsible for keeping western Europe balmy, shut down, stopped, ceased, what have you, for ten days in 2004.
Researchers are not sure yet what to make of the 10-day hiatus. "We'd never seen anything like that before and we don't understand it. We didn't know it could happen," said Harry Bryden, at the National Oceanography Centre, in Southampton, who presented the findings to a conference in Birmingham on rapid climate change.

Without the Gulf Stream, average European temperatures would be 6C colder than other places at similiar latitudes. But is it leading to the somewhat fanciful doomsday scenario portrayed in The Day After Tomorrow, where thermohaline circulation breaks down completely? Not quite. But still:

Lloyd Keigwin, a scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, in Massachusetts, in the US, described the temporary shutdown as "the most abrupt change in the whole [climate] record".

He added: "It only lasted 10 days. But suppose it lasted 30 or 60 days, when do you ring up the prime minister and say let's start stockpiling fuel? How can we rule out a longer one next year?"

One anomoly does not a trend make. But added to the bizarre weather seen over the North Atlantic in the past couple of years --- hurricanes making landfall on the Iberian peninsula, for instance --- as well as other disturbing trends, such as the increase in overall sea surface temperatures and decreasing oceanic salinity, I wonder (in a purely subjective, non-scientific and off-the-cuff way) if something isn't seriously out of whack. How does it all relate to climate change? What's noise and what's signal? Nobody knows really, including the climatologists. Something is up, though. And the science is doggedly struggling to fill in the gaps.

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