Paris (AFP) March 16, 2007
Wheat harvested a month early, markets bursting with prematurely ripened produce, animals migrating too soon or not at all -- Europe's warmest winter on record has made nature run amok, experts across the continent have reported. With average temperatures in the three winter months of December through February more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above average in most European countries, the environment's biological clock has been thrown off kilter, they say.
In Italy, emerging from the mildest winter in more than two centuries according to Bologna's Institute for Atmospheric Science and Climate, vegetables not normally seen until later in the season -- green beans, asparagus, peas, artichokes -- are already so abundant that merchants can't sell them.
In The Netherlands, where winter wheat has been harvested a month earlier than normal, scientists worry that unseasonably high temperatures will increase the risk of grain plant viruses caused by aphids.
In neighboring Germany, half of barley crops in some regions have been hit with a weather-related blight of yellow dwarf disease, carried by fleas that do not normally survive the winter.
The Dutch nature observatory Natuurkalender has reported the "chaotic" disruption of normal butterfly lifecycles, with many species emerging from the cocoon far too early.
Woodpeckers and swallows have likewise arrived a month ahead of schedule, they observed.
In Austria, toads in the region of Styria began their spring migration to summer ponds at least 15 days early, catching environmentalists who last year shepherded thousands of the amphibians across motorways to safety off guard and unprepared.
In Sweden -- where temperatures at midweek stood at 10 C (50 F) compared to -10 C (14 F) at the same time last year -- and elsewhere in Scandinavia, melting snows and pollen in January have heralded an untimely spring.
This flurry of alarmed observations from across Europe arrive amid predictions by climatologists and weather forecasters that record warm weather is likely to continue through the spring, and perhaps into the summer as well.
"The average temperature for the three months of Spring (March, April, May) will be above normal," said French climatologist Michel Schneider, though he did not rule out the possibility of a cold snap or two.
Earlier in the year, climate change experts at Britain's Met Office forecast that 2007 would likely be the warmest on record around the world, breaking the record set in 1998. In France, looking further into the future, the state-run weather service predicts that the number of full-fledged summer heat waves -- similar to the one in 2003 that left 15,000 French people dead -- will increase tenfold starting in 2070.
The observations also coincides with a report released Thursday by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration stating that this winter was the warmest for the entire Northern Hemisphere of the planet since it began keeping records 128 years ago.
In Spain, high temperatures and strong winds have already fanned a series of fires around Barcelona in the northeast, and in Valencia further south.
And in Greece, agricultural authorities are already forecasting a difficult year due to drought in the bread-basket grain area of Thessaly.
A United Nations study last month said human activity was almost certain to blame for global warming and warned that the Earth's average surface temperature could rise between 1.1 and 6.4 degrees by 2100.
earlier related report
A record warm January worldwide pushed average temperatures to 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit (0.72 degrees Celsius) above normal for the 20th century, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said.
It was the highest average temperature for the period since records began in 1880, the NOAA, said in its report released on Thursday.
A UN panel said last month that global warming was almost certainly caused by human activity and several governments and international bodies have sounded the alarm over the need to cut carbon emissions.
Europe has had its hottest winter on record and European experts say the spring and summer are also likely to be the warmest ever.
The El Nino phenomenon, a periodic warming of surface ocean waters in the eastern Pacific, contributed to the chart-busting combined global land and ocean surface temperature, the NOAA said.
But in February ocean temperatures in the central equatorial Pacific cooled more than 0.5 degrees F/0.3 degrees C and were near average for the month.
Nevertheless, the ocean-surface temperature in the period tied for second warmest on record, the agency said, just 0.1 degree Fahrenheit (0.06 degrees Celsius) cooler than the record established during the very strong El Nino episode of 1997-1998.
The NOAA scientists pointed to a steady rise in temperatures in recent decades.
During the past century, global surface temperatures have increased at a rate near 0.11 degrees F (0.06 degrees C) per decade.
"But the rate of increase has been three times larger since 1976, or 0.32 degrees F (0.18 degrees C) per decade, with some of the largest temperature increases occurring in the high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere," they said.
For the United States alone, the December 2006-February 2007 winter season had an overall temperature that was close to average, while December was the 11th warmest on record.
The UN's Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change said last month that human activity was almost certain to blame for global warming and warned that the Earth's average surface temperature could rise between 1.1 and 6.4 degrees C by 2100.
Fossil fuel pollution will raise temperatures this century, worsen floods, droughts and hurricanes, melt polar ice and damage the climate system for a thousand years to come, the UN's top panel on climate change said.
Experts say that if global warming trends continue, up to a third of the world's highest glaciers could melt away by 2050 and half will disappear by 2090.
The new sense of urgency comes with the Kyoto treaty, the world's first serious attempt to combat the problem, set to expire in 2012.
US President George W. Bush refused to adopt Kyoto, which excluded China, India and other big emerging economies.
The NOAA, an agency of the US Commerce Department, said it was working with its federal partners, more than 60 countries and the European Commission to develop a global monitoring network "that is as integrated as the planet it observes, predicts and protects."
Climatologists and weather forecasters across Europe have warned that record warm weather is likely to continue through the spring.
"The average temperature for the three months of spring (March, April, May) will be above normal," said French climatologist Michel Schneider, though he did not rule out the possibility of a cold snap or two.
Source: Agence France-Presse
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Kamloops, Canada (SPX) Mar 19, 2007
Despite the fact that the hundreds of scientists and reviewers on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change announced February 2nd in Paris that global warming is "very likely" caused by human activity, governments and other policy-makers may still justify inaction because of naysayers like Danish weather scientist Henrik Svensmark, who maintains that global climate change can be attributed to the proportion of cosmic rays in our atmosphere.
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