Cooler Climate Could Prevail in Europe and North America Next Decade: Is Global Warming Over? (UPDATED)
Image courtesy of Richard Simmon/NASA
To put it succinctly: not a chance. Just because I know there are those who will gleefully point to this study as proof that global warming is all a big hoax (*cough* Senator James Inhofe *cough*), let me start off this post by quoting one of the study's authors, Noel Keenlyside: "We want to make very clear that we don't want to say that [anthropogenic] global warming is not here."
He followed up by noting that the cooling trend, if it does occur, will likely only be a baseline natural fluctuation -- one that will have no impact on the prevailing global warming trends. Now, to get back to the actual meat of this study, Keenlyside predicts that Europe and North America could soon experience a cooler climate due to natural variations in the North Atlantic's and tropical Pacific's ocean currents.This decadal cooling could temporarily mask the effects of global warming, he said, though the longterm trend of anthropogenic emissions buildup still favor a move towards higher average temperatures. Similar natural oscillations in the oceans' currents have characterized the North Atlantic since the early 19th century, when records first began (which means they've probably been taking place for a much longer period).
Keenlyside and his colleagues believe a weakening of the global thermohaline circulation, or ocean conveyor belt, could be to blame for the coming cooling period. Indeed, because ocean currents help transport warm water around different regions of the world, some scientists fear global warming could disrupt -- if not shutdown completely (though that isn't likely) -- this conveyor belt by changing the waters' temperature and salinity.
As this and other studies have shown, what is critical to remember is that global warming, and the planet's atmospheric patterns as a whole, aren't static; as a result, we can expect to see more deviations from the norm over the coming decades. And, again, that's assuming Keenlyside's model predictions pan out, and we do see a noticeable cooling period. The overall trend, however, will likely remain the same: rising global temperatures and other warming-induced effects.
UPDATE: For a more accurate take on this study, head over to Climate Progress, where Joe Romm explains why most media outlets (including us, to a certain extent) got it wrong. Here's a brief, but informative, snippet (the whole thing is worth the read):
In fact, with the general caveat from the authors that the study as a whole should be viewed in a very preliminary fashion, and should not be used for year-by-year predictions, it is more accurate to say the Nature study is consistent with the following statements:
* The "coming decade" (2010 to 2020) is poised to be the warmest on record, globally.
* The coming decade is poised to see faster temperature rise than any decade since the authors' calculations began in 1960.
* The fast warming would likely begin early in the next decade — similar to the 2007 prediction by the Hadley Center in Science (see "Climate Forecast: Hot — and then Very Hot").
* The mean North American temperature for the decade from 2005 to 2015 is projected to be slightly warmer than the actual average temperature of the decade from 1993 to 2003.