Warm Bath

With the unsettling news that Atlantic Ocean circulation is nearing a devastating tipping point, a 2006 article on the source of Europe’s mild climate is a helpful reminder that the Gulf Stream isn’t everything (via Mefi). The author doesn’t deny that the Gulf Stream has a warming effect, but points out that the effect is on coastal regions on both sides of the Atlantic. The idea that Liverpool is mild compared with Edmonton at the same latitude because of the Gulf Stream, though, is a myth—one that still prevails in the UK almost twenty years later.

I was fascinated to see just how much the Rockies affect climate not only in North America but also in Europe—not because of ocean currents, but because of air currents. But most eye-opening was the article’s opening, pointing out when and how the idea originated that the Gulf Stream is what makes Northern Europe warm: it was one man’s best guess in the mid-19th century, and has been received wisdom ever since. I’d always assumed that it was a product of oceanographers’ and climate scientists’ findings since, say, the mid-twentieth century. Nope. One guy a century earlier, in a single book. Science has progressed a fair bit since its publication four years before The Origin of Species.


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12 February 2024 · Environment