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Hidden climactic surprises could make global warming worse

Publication date: Feb 23, 2006 4:42:01 PM

A number of hidden climactic surprises which could make global warming worse are set out in a new book by Dr Mark Maslin, of the Environmental Change Research Centre in UCL's Department of Geography. Global Warming: A Very Short Introduction is published today by Oxford University Press.

Many people for instance know that if too much freshwater gets into the North Atlantic from the melting of Greenland and the Arctic this could affect the Gulf Streams and thus produce very severe, cold winters in Europe . What many are not aware of is that the deep ocean circulation can also be switched off in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica . If Antarctica melts first and enough freshwater enters the Southern Ocean then the formation of cold dense water which sinks to the bottom of the sea will cease, and if this happens warmer water will expand in the ocean causing the global sea level to rise by over three metres.

In addition, Dr Maslin highlights the huge stores of methane that lie at the bottom of the ocean, which remain as a solid trapped in ice by the cold temperature and high pressures. If the ocean warms up all these 'gas hydrates' could break down, releasing huge amounts of methane into the atmosphere and speeding up the global warming process.

Global Warming: A Very Short Introduction also sets out why current efforts to limit its impact, such as the Kyoyo Protocol, may fail, and examines the moral and ethical implications that global warming present us with.

"There was a delay in recognising the problem of global warming," says Dr Maslin. "It seems that by the early 1960s all the science to understand global warming had been done but it was not until the late 1980s that the problem was first recognized. My book looks at the history, politics and science of global warming and shows that the issue cannot be dealt with without understanding all the different social, economic and scientific elements involved."


Notes for Editors

1. For further information, contact Dominique Fourniol in the UCL Media Relations Office on 0207 679 9728 or d.fourniol@ucl.ac.uk.