Southampton Scientists Predict Chilly Times

26 January 2011, 10:02 | Updated: 10 February 2011, 13:42

Southampton based scientists say it's because of changes to ocean currents, caused by the Arctic warming up.

Currently cold water in the high Arctic sinks into the deep sea, pulling warmer water up from the Gulf Stream and giving north-west Europe its mild weather.

But increased levels of fresh water and warming Arctic seas could reduce the pull of the current and unbalance weather patterns around the world.

Simon Boxall of the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton said the Arctic was changing faster than previous models had suggested, and that over the last four years the surface area of Arctic ice had shrunk to levels predicted for 2070.

He said the changes in conditions in the Arctic were "not just about polar bears and their habitats, it's about the habitats in Britain and worldwide''.

"As the ice melts, you not only get loss of habitat, you get changes to the current.''

He said the researchers were not suggesting the Gulf Stream would stop. But he said: "The extension of the Gulf Stream that affects the climate here and around the world could weaken or change.''

Referring to a disaster movie depicting a world thrown into a deep freeze, he said: "It's not a catastrophic The Day After Tomorrow-type scenario, but we would notice winters become slightly cooler, and summers would be slightly wetter and cooler.

"It's not catastrophic - we're not going to see the English Channel freezing over.''

But he said the UK could witness more snowy winters, similar to the conditions the country experienced last month. While globally, the planet is experiencing rising temperatures, climate change could mean some areas become cooler and wetter rather than hotter and drier.

"It shows a disruption to the equilibrium we've been used to for the past few thousand years, during which time civilisation as we know it has grown up," he added.