European weather, and especially winter is much milder than ours. The reason was obvious and widely accepted: the Gulf Stream carries tropical warmth northeast to temper the prevailing winds.
Wrong. In American Scientist, climate researcher Richard Seager teases out a more mundane cause-and-effect.
Because sea-surface temperatures vary less through the seasonal cycle than do land-surface temperatures, any place where the wind blows from off the ocean will have relatively mild winters and cool summers. Both the British Isles and the Pacific Northwest enjoy such "maritime" climates. Central Asia, the northern Great Plains and Canadian Prairies are classic examples of "continental" climates, which do not benefit from this moderating effect and thus experience bitterly cold winters and blazingly hot summers. The northeastern United States and eastern Canada fall somewhere in between. But because they are under the influence of prevailing winds that blow from west to east, their climate is considerably more continental than maritime.This article is not a fun read. But I mention it because one of the global warming scenarios being lobbed about is a "reversal" of the Gulf Stream and serious implications for European weather.
This is not just an academic issue. The play that the doomsday scenario has gotten in the mediaÂeven from seemingly reputable outlets such as the British Broadcasting CorporationÂcould be dismissed as attention-grabbing sensationalism. But at root, it is the ignorance of how regional climates are determined that allows this misinformation to gain such traction. Maury should not be faulted; he could hardly have known better. The blame lies with modern-day climate scientists who either continue to promulgate the Gulf Stream-climate myth or who decline to clarify the relative roles of atmosphere and ocean in determining European climate. This abdication of responsibility leaves decades of folk wisdom unchallenged, still dominating the front pages, airwaves and Internet, ensuring that a well-worn piece of climatological nonsense will be passed down to yet another generation.Next I suppose they will discover there is no phlogiston.
One the positive side, it seems to take media hoopla like global warming arguments to trigger researcher brains and research $$. I think we can expect more startling announcements in the near future as these efforts hit pay dirt.