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Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Ice, Flood, Drought and Inflation

As much of England finally enjoys a taste of summer and a welcome respite from the rain and the cold, NASA satellite data reveal what appears to be unprecedented widespread melting of its ice cap. According to an article appearing on the BBC website today, whereas the most widespread melting previously recorded by satellite took place across 55% of the island's ice cap, on 12th July this year ice melt took place across 97% of its surface area. Melting was even recorded at Summit station, something that has not occurred since 1889.

Elsewhere in the Arctic, satellite data reveals that sea ice cover has been tracking below the record low levels of 2007. As of 23rd July, sea ice extent was tying with that of 2007. The melt season still has some way to go, as the ice reaches its annual minimum in September.

Presumably, the unusual position of the jet stream will have sent abnormally warm air over Greenland, just as it has brought unusual heat and drought to the United States and flooding to Britain and Kyushu. This year we seem to have been experiencing unusual patterns of weather resulting from the jet stream becoming locked into a particular position for extended periods of time. Quite why this has occurred is something of a moot point, with some climatologists suggesting that these atmospheric circulatory patterns are linked to a decline in temperature differentials between a rapidly warming Arctic and the Tropics. On the other hand, a minority hypothesise that these atmospheric patterns are linked to reduced solar activity, but the mechanism underpinning this has not been explained.

Whatever underlies the unusual meteorological events of 2012, these are likely to have a negative impact upon global food prices, owing for example to the collapse in production in the US Corn Belt. Increases in the price of foodstuffs could lead to an increase in social unrest in some countries, as occurred in Egypt in 2010-2011. Closer to home, a leap in food inflation will place increasing pressure on already squeezed budgets. Events in the natural realm thus seem set to compound the problems  of the human world in the months ahead.

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