Friday, July 27, 2007

Parched, burning southern Europe; flooded north: Is it climate change?

International Herald Tribune, via Associated Press: It's been a season of extremes for Europe. Greece has seen its hottest temperatures ever recorded; Britain, its wettest summer. Are the two linked by climate change?

Experts say that while the globe's changing climate could be contributing to extremes — and that more record-setting weather can be expected — it can't be blamed for individual events.

"We can't talk about this summer in terms of climate change," Dimitris Kaskaoutis, an atmospheric physics researcher in Athens, said Friday. "Everything must be examined over a long period of time and on a global scale."

Southern Europe has been struck by two heat waves in as many months, with soaring temperatures blamed for hundreds of deaths. In Hungary alone, government officials said this week that up to 500 people may have died because of the heat. The dry conditions have left forests vulnerable, and vast swathes across the Balkans and Italy have been ravaged by massive wildfires.

…"The latest study cannot make the link between climate change and what we have experienced so far this summer," said Met Office climate scientist Peter Stott. "However, with a warmer climate there could be an increase in extreme rainfall events despite the expected general trend toward drier summers."

Mihalis Petrakis, head of the Institute of Environmental Research and Sustainable Development in Athens, said there was no doubt that global warming has affected the world's climate.

"But one cannot attribute anything that happens, anything extreme, to climate change," Petrakis said. "Climate change is the base from which these phenomena occur." The frequency of this summer's heat waves in southern Europe — two in as many months — is "worrying," he added.

"But at the moment, we can't take that and say, 'That's climate change.' What we can do is wait for the next 10 years, to see whether the frequency continues, so we can come to a logical conclusion. But science doesn't work according to one sample."…

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