Temperatures, Sea Levels to Rise on Scottish Islands

LONDON, United Kingdom, July 24, 2003 (ENS) - Climate change will force temperatures up and precipitation down across the Scottish islands over the next 100 years, according to new research published today. While the summers will be drier, the winters will be wetter says the report prepared for the British-Irish Council using the superfast computers at the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research, part of the UK Meteorological office.

Average snowfall could decrease by up to 89 percent, the report predicts, and sea levels are expected to rise up to 69 centimeters (27 inches). Scotland's island villages may be the first to suffer consequences of climate change because their survival is so dependent upon the sea.

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Map of the northern UK showing the Scottish islands (Photo courtesy CIA)
By the year 2100, annual average temperatures will increase across the Western Isles, the Orkney Islands and the Shetland Isles says the report, which is based on four contrasting scenarios of future greenhouse gas emissions derived from the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The scenarios were produced by a team led by Dr. Geoff Jenkins at the Hadley Centre for Climate Change Prediction. The authors attach a "relatively high degree of confidence" to the main trends described in the study. But they admit to scientific uncertainties associated with the climate change scenarios, because they cannot know how levels of greenhouse gas emissions will change in the future.

For the medium-high scenario of future emissions, annual temperatures could rise by 1.8 degrees Celsius (3.24 degrees Fahrenheit) for the Western Isles, two degrees C (3.6 degrees F) for the Orkney Islands, and 2.2 degrees C (3.96 degrees F) for the Shetland Isles.

Deputy Minister for Environment and Rural Development Allan Wilson said, "I am delighted that the continued cooperation of the administrations of the British-Irish Council has resulted in publication of these invaluable climate change scenarios. Climate change is a matter of concern for us all and it is vital we are in a position to tackle its most serious impacts."

The British-Irish Council was created from the Good Friday Agreement, and was formally established when the British-Irish Agreement came into force in December 1999. The purpose of the council is to promote the harmonious and mutually beneficial development of relationships among the peoples of Ireland and the United Kingdom, Scotland and Wales, Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man.

Wilson said, "We are committed to reducing the impact of climate change, by reducing emissions of greenhouse gases through the implementation of our Scottish Climate Change Programme, but some impacts of climate change are now unavoidable and preparation and adaptation are essential."

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Coastal resort in Scotland's Shetland Islands (Photo courtesy Scotsell for Scottish Holidays)
Dr. Richard Dixon, head of policy for the conservation organization WWF Scotland, said, "Anyone living in the Western Isles, Orkney or Shetland should take this report very seriously. It begins to tell us whether crofting, tourism and rare species have a future there. It even begins to answer the question of whether life itself will be tenable in the Scottish Islands in 100 years time. "

"Perhaps most alarmingly," said Dixon, "the report admits that we do not understand much about the Gulf Stream and the related ocean currents that bring warm water to the west coast of Scotland, but it is predicted to lose 20 percent of its strength over the next 100 years."

The frequency and severity of storms will increase, the report predicts, threatening coastal communities and wildlife habitats with flooding. More unpredictable weather could add nearly half a meter, or about 20 inches, to high tide levels in the worst storms.

Dixon said the report challenges Scotland to do more to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. "Only last week the Scottish Executive had to admit that Scotland has reduced emissions of greenhouse gases less than half as quickly as the UK average," he said. "Ministers should start by setting a climate change target for Scotland and outlining what needs to be done by each sector - public, business, domestic, transport, agriculture."

Deputy Minister Wilson said, "This report will assist decision makers, particularly those who live and work on the Scottish islands, to meet the challenges posed by climate change by informing long term decisions affected by the climate."

An electronic version of the report, with all the underlying data, is available from the British-Irish Council website at: http://www.british-irishcouncil.org/climatechange