Friday, 17 October 2014

Tragedy in Nepal

Ten years ago this weekend I had just arrived in Kathmandu with my good friend, Tim Scott, where I was to start trekking for the second time amongst the wonderful high peaks and scenery of Nepal.

We joined a party of a dozen international trekkers on a three week hike that would take us across Gokoyo Ri at 5,360 m and through the 5,400 m Cho La pass before trekking to Gorak Shep and ascending the 5,500 m Kala Patar, known as the trekker’s ‘mountain’ overlooking Mt Everest and basecamp.

October in Nepal is a peak season for trekkers to gather and work their way along and up the Himalayan mountain trekking routes. Skies are normally clear by day and the sun often shines before the bitter cold returns at dusk.

But the tragedy that unfolded in Nepal this week was on an altogether unprecedented scale. A series of avalanches followed heavy snowfall and blizzard conditions on Tuesday causing a a nightmare scenario with at least 32 people dead and many more missing.

Most of the fatalities happened as the blizzard reached a point on the Annapurna Circuit 100 miles northwest of the capital, Kathmandu. This too is a well-known trekking route in central Nepal and at about 4,500 m it is close to the circuit’s highest point, the Thorung La pass.

Tourists from countries around the world were caught on the mountain and helicopters saved more than 200 survivors stranded in lodges and huts along the route, according to Nepales authorities.

With snowfall from the storm topping six feet in some places, this is probably the worst disaster in the history of Nepal’s trekking business.

The blizzard was the tail end of cyclone Hudhud, which hit the Indian coast a few days earlier and was reportedly one of the strongest storms on record to affect the region. It made landfall in Andhra Pradesh, India, last Sunday and was the equivalent of a category four hurricane.

Scientists are always reluctant to link any one weather event to climate change but they have pointed out in the past that the Himalayas are especially vulnerable to the increased storm intensity expected to result from climate change.

“Storms in that region are getting stronger,” John Stone, an IPCC lead author and adjunct professor at Carleton University in Ottawa, told the Toronto Star. “It is not inconsistent with what scientists have been saying - by making the atmosphere contain more energy, we have increased the likelihood of more frequent and severe storms.”

The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, a regional agency based in Kathmandu that serves eight countries, released a report in May showing that rising temperatures caused Nepal’s glaciers to shrink by almost a quarter between 1977 and 2010 - at an average loss of about 15 square miles per year.

The report also pointed out that Nepal’s average temperature change has been two to eight times greater than the global average and says such changes could bring more intense and frequent floods, avalanches and landslides.

In April this year an avalanche - caused by melting ice from the Khumbu ice fall - killed 16 Nepalese guides near Mt Everest base camp in one of the deadliest disasters in the mountain’s history.

Modern  weather forecasting has reduced the risk of being surprised by a killer storm like the one that struck last weekend but the pronounced warming of the Himalayan climate in recent years has made the icefall more unstable than ever and added to the dangers for both trekkers and mountaineers.

A former British Gurkha officer and avid trekker General Sam Cowan is quoted as saying that “no one should have ventured out to cross Thorung La with the weather as threatening as it was”.

But access to our accustomed news media and forecasts is not always so easy in the high and remote mountains and it is unclear at this stage whether those caught in the storm had the benefit of any warning or not.


All photos: Clive Simpson

Friday, 19 September 2014

Après ski

The clouds are low and swirl in a playful way over the mountains on this late August summer’s day, teasing the landscape with short-lived shafts of light.

With day upon day of grey cloud and rain it has been a poor season in this part of the French Alps - but thankfully the jet stream has re-aligned itself allowing more typical summery days to return.

We are at the winter ski resort of Les Carroz, perched on a 1140 metre plateau high above the valley and just an hour’s drive from Geneva.

Compared to the hectic bustle of its busy winter season between mid-December and late April, life in this traditional Haut-Savoyard village is running at an altogether different pace now.

The resort’s telecabin continues to ply up and down but its tarmac car park lies almost empty, a grey and colourless expanse without the myriad of cars and coaches that boost the local population from the end of each year.

For now this is the territory of walkers, para-gliders and young bikers, the latter spending their long days ascending the telecabin and then careering at breakneck speeds down steep mountain-side tracks.

At the height of winter this snow-covered landscape is truly fit for purpose, the cable cars, ski lifts, snow machines and skiing paraphernalia a relevant and necessary part of the scenery.

Today, this infrastructure seems stark and incongruous as it clings to the steep slopes, a un-natural intrusion against the backdrop of pine trees, the pristine towering walls of rock and Alpine meadows, which even now are bursting with late season colour.

Without their winter dressing of white, the ski-runs lie naked and unromantic, while the steep slopes are cris-crossed with the metal supports and cables of chair lifts which hang silent and still.

Exposed gravel paths and tracks redefine the summer landscape in a different way too and, without any sunshine to soften it the view is rather harsh and mechanical, like an abandoned theme park where the rides have been shut down.

But, as the clouds roll off a nearby mountain top, a fleeting slither of brightness transforms the view. For a moment it is like the spotlights of a giant theatre being tweaked by some unseen engineer, and we have a glimpse of brilliance that quickly changes both landscape and mood.

Waiting to board the next telecabin are a host of lean young bikers, well kitted out with padding and helmets, and clutching their small-wheeled and robust looking bikes.

As the first cabin of the next batch swings down in front of us, the automatic doors slide open and the man in charge hauls the bikes in and stacks them three per cabin. It is routine work and he drags on a roll-up at the same time.

We follow in those designated for people and our suspended cabin clunks slowly round the boarding platform before hooking into the uphill cable circuit and whisking us steeply into the air.

Les Carroz is part of an area known as the Massif - which also includes Morillon, Samoëns and Sixt - with a total of 125 km of pistes and 42 lifts. The village itself boasts 32 trails and 15 lifts of its own and is also part of the larger Grand Massif that includes Flaine.

Our upward journey takes just six minutes and I wonder if the young cyclists in the cabin ahead can race down in the same kind of time.

It being a Sunday there are more people about than usual, families and groups from nearby cities out for the refreshing mountain air and invigorating exercise.

We were heading for the Alpage de l’Airon, a restaurant nestling in a natural amphitheatre at 1765 metres, aside a man-made lake that is used to feed snow-making machines in the winter.

There is a steeply sloping descent towards the chalet from the 1882 metre viewpoint of Point du Cupoire where our one and only chance to view the snow-covered summit of Mount Blanc is thwarted by low cloud.

A conversation in a village bar the evening before had led to the recommendation to visit l’Airon, which also doubles as a small local cheese factory, for an outdoor Sunday lunch.

Our destination comes into sight as we drop towards the sheltered valley head, though looking little more than a large cow-shed from our vantage point on the track down.

Suspicions were heightened as we approached from the side, adjacent to a straw-filled doorway which was indeed a night-time refuge for the cows and their clanging bells now on out on the far hillside.

Stepping round the corner a large open air patio appeared and, along with it, a sense of relief. It was packed with a colourful array of diners, eating and drinking at several dozen tables.

The air was cool but across the valley the sky was beginning to clear, bringing the promise of sunshine and warmth as we reposed with glasses of red wine and perused the mouth-watering menu. It included, of course, the local staple Tartiflette, a rich and indulgent potato dish with lashings of Reblochon cheese.

All photos by Clive Simpson, who is the author of The Lighthouse Keeper blog - for more information, commission enquiries or to re-publish any of his articles click here

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Light of the world

Experts from around the globe gathered at Leicester’s De Monfort University in the UK this week to discuss ‘artificial light’ and how it is not only affecting the world we live in but is also increasingly helping define it.

The fact that light at night affects us adversely more than we might think is not something many of us give a second thought to - let alone consider it necessary to be discussed at an international conference.

But those at ALAN 14 - the second ‘Artificial Light at Night’ annual conference - had a significantly different take and highlighted a number of concerns that need to be taken seriously.

The scientists and researchers had travelled from the different parts of the UK, Ireland, the United States, Europe and Australia to present their findings on light-related topics and related research across the fields of health, biology, pollution, ecology, technology and design.

ALAN 2014 examined the use of artificial lighting at night in all its forms, as well as the spectrum of adverse effects that artificial light at - known collectively as light pollution - night may cause.

The theme coming through loud and clear is that society at large is barely beginning to recognising that such liberal and indiscriminate use of illumination is at a mounting cost to both the environment and ourselves.

Interestingly, an increasing number of scientific studies are now seriously questioning the long-held premise that humans are largely immune to the effects of artificial light at night.

Research is now confirming that artificial light - even in quite small doses - disrupts sleep, confuses circadian rhythms and impedes the production of the hormone melatonin.

All of which is bad news if the consequences of excessive exposure to light at night really do include an increased risk for obesity, diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Back in 2012 the American Medical Association (AMA) called for more research into the risks and benefits of occupational and environmental exposure to artificial light at night and for the introduction of new lighting technologies at home and at work that minimise circadian disruption.

Technological advances such as LEDs (light-emitting diodes) have improved the potential for better targeted lighting - but for now they are often brighter and more intrusive than the old lights they are replacing.

Much of our modern light - whether from TVs, computer screens, smart phones and electronic gadgets or from outdoor lighting of one form or another - is also ‘blue’ rich and so proves even more disruptive to the 24 hour biological process that regulates the body's functions.

According to conference organiser Prof Martin Morgan-Taylor, of the School of Law, De Montfort University, Leicester, and a Legal Advisor to the UK Campaign for Dark Skies, the physiological effects caused by lighting may be similar to noise.

"Admittedly, there are comparatively few studies as yet on the problems caused by lighting, but lights can and do wake people up, just as does noise," he said.

"Moreover, with light it appears that the subject does not need to be fully awakened to suffer the same negative effects as someone who has been deprived of sleep altogether."

This means that people's health can even be adversely affected by ‘security’ floodlighting and, what the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) refers to as, ‘light briefly turning on and off' during the night.

Prof Morgan-Taylor stated the research concerning cancer risks does not restrict itself to lighting that wakes the subject because risk factors are akin to the levels of night-time light entering a bedroom.

Paul Marchant, of Leeds Metropolitan University, questioned the widely held perception of ‘improved’ (brighter) lighting is always beneficial in reducing road accidents and crime.

The generic objection to this - based on the premise that light equals protection and darkness represents danger - is that we need all this light for safety and security, he said.

Such common belief goes a long way to explain why many supermarkets, petrol station forecourts and car parks, as well as our own driveways and yards, are lit more than ten times as brightly as they were just 20 years ago.

"In fact, the issue of light at night and safety is rather more complex, and there is little compelling evidence to support widespread such mis-assumptions," he said.

"Ever-brighter lights can, for example, actually diminish security by casting glare that impedes vision and creates shadows where criminals can hide."

Emma Marrington, CPRE Dark Skies campaigner and author of ‘Shedding Light’, a survey of local authority lighting policies, said some local authorities are taking steps in the right direction.

She said the research had revealed no evidence to support the fear that adjusting or dimming street lights impacted on public safety.

"We urge councils to do more to control lighting in their areas and ensure that the right lighting is used only where and when it is needed."

"We're not advocating changes where they're not appropriate - but why shine bright lights on residential streets, quiet roads and open countryside throughout the night when they are not needed?"

The consistent theme emerging from ALAN 14 was that there are many different aspects to artificial light at night and the effects on our well-being, ecology and life in general are only just beginning to be understood.

We will, no doubt, continue to tinker with the natural world and all its variances, and the exponential growth of artificial light in our homes and across the planet shows now time of dimming yet.

In the meantime, conferences like ALAN will gradually produce evidence in an attempt to redress the balance.

And one day there may come a time of new enlightenment - when we release that at certain times of the day we need dark more than light.

The conference was hosted by Leicester De Montfort Law School, De Montfort University, and co-organised with the EU COST Action LoNNe (Loss of the Night Network) in association with the International Dark Sky Association. My thanks to Martin Morgan-Taylor and Katie Scott.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Building for the future

A positive and infectious energy surrounds Karl Hick. He's a potent mix of athlete, scientist, accountant and developer. And the list of nine companies on his business card seemingly leaves no stone unturned.

With an award-winning home builder to head up, not to mention a timber frame firm, a healthcare and retirement homes specialist, an energy company, a waste company, a renewables firm, and two product supply companies, this is a man with an insatiable appetite for business.

He's been at the helm of the hugely successful Larkfleet Group for a dozen years now, running a growing portfolio of interconnected companies that are steadily setting new national benchmarks in home construction and renewable energy.

Larkfleet - based in Bourne, South Lincolnshire - specialises in building energy-efficient housing and investing in research and development of innovative new building designs, materials and construction methods.

The company is also a major developer of sustainable energy projects, as well as being a provider of energy-efficiency improvements for new and existing buildings.

"From the outset I wanted it to be a different company - built around a sustainability ethos," he says.

"At the time this was a unique proposition in the industry and others were not interested in such a long term approach."

Larkfleet was initially focused entirely on house building and but recognising the opportunity for diversification, the scope was quickly expanded to embrace developing more energy-efficient and sustainable homes, and renewable technologies.

"I can't put the world right but I can do my little bit to help the green industry and make it a commercial success," he says.

Larkfleet - one of the few builders to offer solar panels on new homes as standard - has now built more than 2,500 homes, developed some of the country's biggest solar energy parks and is exploring renewable technologies in waste and power.

Typical of the latter is a new research project to generate ‘carbon-free' electricity via an experimental solar power system installed on land at the Bourne headquarters.

Its panels focus the sun's rays onto water-filled metal tubes and the energy generated can be harnessed to heat water or produce steam to drive a generator for electricity.

The panels are mounted on a rig which rotates to track the movement of the sun through the sky.

Karl hopes that such a system - which is attracting worldwide interest - can be integrated into traditional power stations.

"The solar steam could be fed to the power station generators so fossil fuel would only need to be burned at night or on days when solar power is not enough to meet demand," he says.

"This is very much a long-term project - we will trial the technology fully over the next couple of years before coming to any conclusions about its future potential."

The solar steam initiative is very much a product of his enquiring mind and science background.

In his younger days Karl was also an accomplished athlete and it is the competitive edge from his achievements on the track that he brings to the business world.

His pioneering spirit can also be seen behind the development of two prototype homes alongside the company offices - a Green Deal Eco House and a new PassiveHouse, a test home using new materials and construction methods.

The Green Deal Eco House demonstrates how buildings can incorporate both Green Deal and ECO-funded energy saving measures in housing and commercial buildings.

Larkfleet's PassiveHouse shows how lightweight pultruded glass-reinforced plastic (GRP) composite beams and panels could revolutionise the way in which future homes are built.

The house is designed to be ‘factory built' using mass-produced modular components that can easily installed on site with minimal labour and waste, all much quicker than a traditionally built house.

Its light weight also offers the potential for building such homes on foundations that would rise in response to flooding.

Another aspect of Larkfleet's sustainable energy business is developing large photovoltaic solar farms, adding solar panels to new and existing buildings, and refurbishing existing homes to reduce their carbon footprint, energy use and energy costs.

"The reason solar works so well in the UK is because you need a combination of sun and relatively cool temperatures for optimum energy output," explains Karl.

He describes it as a "very simple technology" but one that still needs government support in order to make it practical to deliver.

"We can do a lot more with solar energy generation in this country and it is something I think should be developed and supported more," he says.

"Wind should also be used more. People don't seem to want it but it is one of our biggest resources in the UK - the difference may come if the lights go out and then people will say ‘why didn't we invest in wind power'?"

Karl believes that if the subsidies given to the nation's nuclear power industry were matched for renewables the country would be in a very different situation.

"Thirty per cent of our energy could come from solar and it would be much cheaper, cleaner and simpler than nuclear," he says.

The scientist who became one of the country's most innovative developers has created a company of our time - a true leader when it comes to home building, sustainable development and renewable energy projects.

The above is adapted from Larkfleet Ascending - an article written by Clive Simpson for The Business Moment magazine.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Failure is not an option

Photo: Clive Simpson
Many of the most successful people have experienced their fair share of failure before going on to do great things.

And international businessman Mike Greene would count himself as one of them.

Born and raised on council estates, he worked hard to achieve a financially rewarding career after overcoming bankruptcy at the age of 27.

Now, he’s a well-known business entrepreneur and angel investor, and a director of companies, trade associations, charities, marketing and retail organisations.

Mike greets me enthusiastically when I arrive at his family home in the heart of the South Lincolnshire Fens.

As we chat whilst sitting at a large farmhouse table in the family’s garden conservatory on a fine summer’s afternoon it soon becomes evident that Peterborough’s very own Secret Millionaire is a man with a mission.

And, if there are any secrets when it comes to success in business and life, then here might be some answers.

His appearance on Channel 4's Secret Millionaire programme in October 2011 was a life-transforming experience.

"It really consolidated my thinking about my past and its effect on what I have subsequently achieved," he says.

In the programme he became involved with various organisations working with underprivileged youngsters in Peterborough.

"It was a deeply moving experience and I was affected by how selfless some people can be in giving so much of their time and emotion to these causes."

But it was the kids themselves who proved the real eye-opener.

"Most of them had a really tough start in their lives and all of them had some real challenges to contend with. However, the ways in which they chose to deal with them were very different."

Afterwards Mike sold his main business and took a three month sabbatical during which he worked to raise £100,000 for a hundred charities in a hundred days.

The television programme and subsequent challenge inspired him to commit one-third of his time to helping charities and mentoring others to help change their lives for the better.

"We live in an instant world and too often we want a quick fix," he observes.

"The National Lottery and programmes like X-Factor lead a lot of people to believe that we can get rich quick without hard work - but life isn’t like that."

Mike’s own journey to fame and fortune stemmed from humble beginnings.

His father abandoned the family when Mike was just a few years old, leading to eviction and living in an old people’s home before being re-housed in cramped, rented accommodation.

"It wasn’t until the family moved to Peterborough when I was 11 that I finally got a bed to myself and no longer had to share with my siblings," he says.

"Despite the tough early years I always swore that I would be a successful businessman. Even as a young boy I told my mother that one day I would be a millionaire. And I really believed it."

Today, Mike is living proof of his own mantra - ‘It's not where you start that matters, it's where you end up’.

He’s a respected global retail consultant, an international speaker, a professional mentor, a philanthropist, an endurance adventurer, and a passionate charity fund raiser.

Above all he is a dedicated family man, with wife Julia and their two daughters, who were part of the motivation for writing his best selling and inspirational book Failure Breeds Success.

In a nutshell his book guides the reader through a series of steps to define what success means - in all its definitions - to them personally.

For Mike, life and business are inextricably connected. And whether its mentoring enthusiastic young entrepreneurs or speaking to groups of several hundred he doesn’t pull any punches.

"People spend more time planning their next holiday then they do the rest of the their life," he says.

Mike currently supports a number of charities in the Peterborough area, has around 20 investments in start up businesses and is on nine boards, five of which he chairs.

"I think I've got just about a perfect balance," he says. "It's about as close as I can get it to a third of my life being personal and family time, a third work and a third charity. I'm still a 16 hour a day person - but it's a really balanced 16 hours."

Largely because of his own life experiences, Mike still has something of a fascination with failure and turning the negative into something good.

"I have long harboured the notion that failure is not a bad thing. In fact, it is a very important part of our life journey," he says.

"Failure teaches you some of the most important lessons you will ever learn and if you are attuned to these lessons you will emerge a stronger, wiser and more resilient person - and be equipped with all the ingredients for success."

His ambition is to help others achieve their goals by sharing his stories and experiences through inspirational public speaking, and personal and professional mentoring.

It is evident from our conversation that Mike is a great believer in practising what he preaches.

"You should live the life that you want to talk about and you should be the success that you advise on," he says.

And the strap line that underpins it all? "Businesses need to be more charitable and charities need to be more business-like," he replies.

We could have chatted for longer but I realised time was pressing and I now had my own goals to set and a strategy to plan.

It was one of those inspirational interviews. And I left with what Mike likes to call his business card - a copy of his book Failure Breeds Success.

The above is adapted from ‘A clear vision’ - an article written by Clive Simpson for The Business Moment magazine. Mike Greene's book Failure Breeds Success is available from Amazon in paperback or Kindle

Monday, 28 July 2014

All fracked up

Sooner or later if the government’s plan comes off there will be a shale gas fracking site near you. Or you will have a friend or family member who lives near one.

That’s because around 3,000 wells could be drilled at more than 1,000 sites across the country in order to deliver up to a fifth of the country’s annual gas demand to an increasingly power hungry society - welcome to Fracking GB plc!

Today the government began a new round of licensing for onshore oil and gas, which opens up around half of the UK to potential fracking, including national parks in ‘exceptional circumstances’.

The licences are the first step towards exploration but firms will also have to obtain planning consent, permits from the Environment Agency and a sign-off from the Health and Safety Executive.

Fracking involves blasting water, chemicals and sand at high pressure into shale rock formations deep under ground to release the gas held inside.

In announcing the so-called 14th onshore licensing round, Business and Energy Minister Matthew Hancock said: "Unlocking shale gas in Britain has the potential to provide us with greater energy security, jobs and growth.

"We must act carefully, minimising risks, to explore how much of our large resource can be recovered to give the UK a new home-grown source of energy."

Today’s Guardian newspaper reports the government has committed nearly £2.5m of public money to an office to encourage fracking - before a single home has been powered by shale gas.

David Cameron has said the UK is going "all out for shale", with his government offering tax breaks to fracking companies and promising local authorities they will be able to keep 100% of the business rates from fracking operations, rather than 50% as before.

Previously unreleased figures show that the Office of Unconventional Gas and Oil (Ougo) - set up in March 2013 to encourage the development of shale gas and oil and coal bed methane - has already spent £568,000 and has been awarded a budget of £1.8m for this financial year.

There are already people living near fracking sites in the north of the country whose homes have been blighted - making insurance difficult and expensive, and significantly reducing property values.

"In pushing forward with their fracking fantasy, Cameron and co are riding roughshod over the climate science," said Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green Party.

"The science overwhelmingly indicates that 80% of known fossil fuel reserves need to be left underground if we are serious about meeting internationally agreed climate commitments."

She said fracking would add to the huge financial risk of the carbon bubble and called for the use of renewable and conservation technologies to build a sustainable energy policy.

"We need a government that doesn’t want to sacrifice our homes and communities for the profits of oil and gas firms while ignoring the pressing reality of climate change," she added.

The renewable wind power industry has had to deal with a broad range of challenges, particularly visual impact, and so far this doesn’t seem to be on the shale gas radar.

But type ‘shale gas rig’ into an internet search engine and select 'images' to see a taster of what might actually be in store for any community where drilling might take place.

We're likely to see the industrialisation of tracts of the British countryside, gas flaring in the home counties and a steady stream of trucks carrying contaminated water down rural lanes.

Production rates for the UK are expected to be lower than in the US because of lower pressure in UK basins, while costs might be higher because of demanding local environmental standards and the proximity of populated areas.

Analysis by Carbon Tracker estimates that if we are to contain greenhouse gas emissions at a level that preserves a reasonable chance of remaining below the 2C of global average temperature increase (considered a critical danger threshold), then four-fifths of known fossil fuel reserves need to remain locked in the ground.

The official Committee on Climate Change has warned that in the context of the UK’s legally binding climate-change targets, a new ‘dash for gas’ should be Plan Z, not Plan A.

All this makes for a risky backdrop to shale gas development in this country, which the Government seems determined to ignore in its public pronouncements and new round of licensing.

The industry will require major investment to get going and investors will need to be patient in getting a return, as going through the planning process and exploratory drilling will take years of expensive development before commercially useful quantities of gas are produced.

And no one really knows how much of gas can be got out, or how much that will cost both financially and to the environment at large.

Add to that the expectation that it will not in reality reduce energy prices, then the case for shale gas looks a lot more risky than proponents and the Government is suggesting.

The shale gas narrative and tax breaks presented by George Osborne a year ago are also, in part, based on the fear of being 'left behind'.

At the time Osborne said that a technological revolution based on government "getting out of the way of progress" is what we need. He couldn't be more wrong.

Where the country is being left behind, however, is in the development of new environmental technologies, including renewables and carbon capture. If we are to keep up in these areas, perhaps with some gas in the mix, it requires clear policy and leadership.

You can get away with small government on some issues - but not when it comes to energy. The UK needs a clear framework and strategy that sets out how we will secure our energy needs while meeting environmental goals. Right now we don't have that.

The current UK government - initially hailed by Cameron as ‘the greenest ever’ - is a liturgy of broken promises and short-term opportunism.

When it comes to energy policy and our long-term future it seems that little George has no idea. And neither has little Britain.

See also - Cameron talks up fracking and Fracking hell! from 2013.
The Lighthouse Keeper is written by Clive Simpson - for more information, commission enquiries or to re-publish any of his articles click here for contact information.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Global connections

Photo: Clive Simpson

As temperatures across the UK soared again this week it is worth taking note of how meteorological events in one part of the world can trigger weather on the opposite side of the globe.

Last weekend the UK recorded a total of 62,277 lightning strikes as storms moved in from Spain and France.

This followed a mini heatwave which enveloped most of the country, bringing with it temperatures in the low 30s and by far the hottest day of the year so far.

And all this was because of a storm thousands of miles away - super typhoon Negouri which had been churning across the north west Pacific in the first week of July.

As well as bringing strong winds and heavy rain to Japan it also dragged a mass of tropical air northwards and gave the jet stream a kick in the process.

That set off a ripple effect along the jet stream, running across the Pacific and extending its influence out across the Atlantic, forcing the jet stream there to swing northwards across Europe.

Super typhoon Negouri photographed by astronauts on the Space Station.

This is what allowed the exceptionally warm and humid air - known as a Spanish plume - to spread up and across the UK, bringing a brief heatwave before breaking down with severe thunderstorms.

So, a storm over the north west Pacific can set off thunderstorms 10 days later some 10,000 miles away - illustrating in a very real way how the weather in one part of the globe is often directly influenced by what is happens elsewhere.

We’ve also had news this week - data released by NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) - that last month was Earth's warmest June since records began in 1880. It marked the second month in a row the world has set a warm-temperature record.

The average temperature over global surfaces for June 2014 was 1.3 degrees above the 20th century average of 59.9 degrees. In May, the Earth's temperature was 1.33 degrees above the average of 58.6 degrees.

"The warmth was fueled by record warm ocean temperatures," explained Jessica Blunden, a NOAA climate scientist.

"Large parts of the Pacific Ocean and most of the Indian Ocean hit record-high temperatures or were much warmer than average for the month."

Most of the world's land areas saw warmer-than-average monthly temperatures, with record warmth measured across part of southeastern Greenland, parts of northern South America, areas in eastern and central Africa, and sections of southern and southeastern Asia.

Every continent except Antarctica set temperature records and overall Earth's land areas in June were the seventh-warmest on record. It was also the 352nd consecutive month that the global temperature was above average.

So far, this year is tied with 2002 as the third warmest year on record, with a global temperature about 1.21 degrees above average.

According to NOAA, the last below-average global temperature for June was in 1976 and the last below-average global temperature for any month was February 1985.

It seems likely more records will be broken in the coming months as global warming combines with an emerging El Niño (see Countdown to El Niño).

NOAA currently puts the chance of El Niño forming at about 70% during the northern hemisphere summer and close to 80% during the autumn and early winter.

The Lighthouse Keeper is written by Clive Simpson - for more information, commission enquiries or to re-publish any of his articles click here for contact information