Associate feature: Planning ahead for climate change
“What’s the weather doing tomorrow?” is a question we’ve all asked to plan what to do in the next few days.
But what about changes in climate? Are we planning ahead?
While weather happens over days or weeks, climate spans years and decades. This makes climate predictions less certain but our projections are improving.
In the Arctic climate change has been causing dramatic loss of sea ice and glaciers with direct consequences for Scotland’s climate. We are linked, of course, by the ocean.
Like a vast, stately conveyor belt, ocean currents flow from the tropics to polar regions, where they cool down, become denser, sink to the seabed and pour back to lower latitudes.
The Atlantic segment of this flow is known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), which also brings warm air from the tropics past Scotland’s doorstep on its way north.
However, an influx of fresh water into the Arctic seas from rapidly melting ice has been disrupting the AMOC engine and the Atlantic conveyor belt that modulates our climate and weather is slowing down.
We are investigating the consequences for our climate as we speak.
Some of my SAMS colleagues just returned from an expedition in the North Atlantic aboard the RRS Discovery, literally taking the temperature of the ocean and witnessing that change is already happening.
More frequent and ferocious super hurricanes, fuelled by a warming sea surface, emanate from the Gulf of Mexico before crossing the Atlantic as severe storms.
Meanwhile, increasing rainfall has made landslides a regular occurrence at the Rest and Be Thankful, regularly closing the A83.
Our transport infrastructure, towns, cities and harbours must start planning now for the climate we will come to live with.
Climate may mean long-term change, but the pace of that change is increasing.
Scotland needs to be ready.
Professor Nicholas Owens is the director of the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS)
This piece was sponsored by SAMS