show that a variety of extreme weather events across the globe, supported
by new research, added further weight to the concerns expressed by the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and many others that
climate change is already having an impact on the environment
According to the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
(NOM), 2003 was the third warmest year on record. Average temperatures
for the year were above average by as much as 1.7° C for large parts
of Asia, Europe, and the western United States. Warmer-than-average
temperatures were also recorded in much of South America, Australia,
Canada and parts of Africa. However, widespread areas of cooler-than-average
temperatures were experienced in the eastern United States, western
Asia, and coastal areas of Australia (NOM 2003).
|Figure 1: Dramatic changes in Arctic sea ice since
1979. The loss of Arctic sea ice may be caused by warming Arctic
temperatures that result from greenhouse gas build-up in the atmosphere.
|Source: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific
In September, scientists from the United States and Canada announced
that the largest ice-shelf in the Arctic had broken up. The Ward Hunt
Ice-shelf (see also Polar section), to the north of Canada´s Ellesmere
Island, split into two main parts, with other large blocks of ice also
pulling away from the main sections
(Mueller and others 2003). The news only added to the growing number
of reports in recent years of melting in the Polar Regions. For example,
trends of perennial sea ice in the Arctic declining at a rate of nine
per cent per decade, which were found from studies conducted in 2002,
persisted in 2003. Researchers suspect that the loss of Arctic sea ice
may be caused by changing atmospheric pressure patterns over the Arctic
that move sea ice around, and by warming Arctic temperatures that result
from greenhouse gas buildup in the atmosphere. The two images (Figure
1) show a comparison of Arctic sea ice extent in 1979 and 2003.
There were also reports of glaciers shrinking at a rapid rate in Nepal
as well as in Bolivia, while the Patagonian glaciers in Chile and Argentina
were found in October 2003 to be melting so fast that they were actually
contributing to sea level rise (Combs and others 2003). And in the Antarctic,
it was discovered that the Pine Island Glacier, one of the continent’s
biggest, had lost 31 km3 of ice since 1992, and could be lost to the
ocean in a few hundred years if present rates of thinning continue (BAS
While not all cases of extreme weather events can be attributed to climate
change, there was certainly an abundance of such phenomena in 2003.
A record summer heatwave affected Europe. The all-time maximum temperature
record in the United Kingdom was broken on 10 August, when the mercury
reached 38.1° C at Gravesend in Kent. France had its warmest summer
on record, with a heatwave that the National Institute of Health and
Medical Research blamed for 14 802 deaths in the country (Boyer and
Temperatures also soared across southern Asia in late May and June.
During a 20-day heatwave, maximum temperatures climbed to 45–50°
C, and more than 1 500 deaths occurred in India (NOAA 2003).
In China, widespread flooding left four million people homeless after
torrential rains hit the country’s eastern provinces in July.
And there was no let up in reports of extreme weather as 2003 drew to
an end, with major floods reported in southeastern France and southern
Brazil, while a freak thunderstorm struck Melbourne, Australia, all
within the space of a few days.