05 Dec 2021

Cabragh Wetlands: Climate change and what we can expect

Tipperary people urged to join GOAL's climate change and food campaign

Climate change and what we can expect.

It is now well established and agreed in the scientific community, that climate has changed much more rapidly than would be expected over the last century

Now that we have a clearer picture of our evolutionary/creation story and of human beings’ place in nature, for the next four weeks we are going to examine climate change which is one of the biggest and most important issues and policy agendas in today’s world and about which we will be hearing much more in the coming years.

Climate is what we expect; weather is what we get. A colleague of mine explains the difference between climate and weather in those terms. Climate refers to the type of conditions which we can expect in an area of the world at different times of the year, while the weather is what we experience on a day-to-day basis in our everyday lives. Weather forecasts are relatively short-term predictions of what we can expect in the next month or so based on current conditions and knowledge of how these conditions evolve. Climate science examines long-term trends in meteorological data and predicts the likely movement of those measurements in the medium to long-term.

You will be well familiar with the principal components of weather and, indeed, climate. They include temperature, wind-speed and direction, rainfall amounts and duration, sunshine and cloud amounts.

All these have major implications for life on earth. We are all too familiar with how they affect us individually. We like some sunshine, but we don’t like it too hot; we like crisp winter weather, but we don’t like it too cold. We have seen the destructive force of high winds and the damage to property and interruption of daily activity caused by high rainfall which gives rise to flooding. These are inconveniences in our lives but in Ireland we are relatively lucky. While we do experience these things, because we live in a temperate climate their impact is limited – although that view won’t be shared by anyone whose property has been flooded repeatedly.

In other places the effects of these forces has been far greater and we have heard of the effects of hurricanes on the West Indies and the USA; of the extensive wildfires which have burned in many parts of the world and destroyed large areas of forests and grassland and the plants and animals who live there; of the massive floods which caused such havoc in Germany recently and of the droughts which have caused crops to fail and animals to die bringing famine to many parts of the world.

As well as humans, other parts of nature are significantly affected by the climatic conditions which exist in a particular location. For example, the kinds of plants, insects and small animals which can exist in an area are affected by temperature, moisture, sunlight and even winds. If these conditions change, then the flora and fauna which can exist change also. Then, the other plants and animals which rely on those start to change as well. This range of interdependent plants and animals is called an ecosystem and the ecosystem is, in turn, dependent on climate conditions.

Changes in climate also impacts on the way the earth behaves. For example, hotter water has a bigger volume than colder water. So, as the temperature of the seas increases the water levels rise. You will also have heard of the shrinking of the polar ice-caps due to rises in temperature. This releases vast quantities of water which also raise the levels of the seas. As a result, the sea is liable to threaten coastal communities in many countries, including Ireland, in the medium term. Changing temperatures in different parts of the world can also change major wind patterns and the flow of ocean currents.

Some of these changes are driven by natural cycles related to the earth’s positioning relative to the sun. However, it is now well established and agreed in the scientific community, that climate has changed much more rapidly than would be expected over the last century and that human activity has had a major influence on these accelerated changes.
Next week we will look at how this has happened.

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