Surely, Ireland can’t get any wetter?
Yes, it can. And it already is, according to researchers who have written the first comprehensive official assessment of Ireland’s climate in eight years. Rainfall increased by 6 per cent in the 30-year period between 1989 and 2018 compared with the previous three decades. Also, The Status of Ireland’s Climate study – published by the Environmental Protection Agency, Met Éireann and the Marine Institute – found that 2006-2015 was the wettest decade on record here. Air temperatures are also changing.
You mean it is going to get even colder?
No. Warmer. Average air temperatures have risen by 0.9 degrees over the past 120 years. What is more, the rise in temperatures has been recorded across all seasons throughout the year. Of the top 20 warmest years on record in Ireland, 15 of them have occurred since 1990. The length of warm spells has also increased over the past 60 years.
And it’s not just the air – the sea is warming too. Surface sea temperatures at Malin Head, Ireland’s most northerly point, between 2009 and 2018 were 0.47 degrees above the previous decade. Compare that to average global sea temperatures, rising by around 0.15 degrees a decade. The significant rise is partly due to natural variations in the north Atlantic, but around half of the recent warming is down to global warming, the study says.
I get the feeling this isn’t a good thing?
It definitely isn’t, according to the EPA chief climate scientist Frank McGovern, who warned that “all of these indicators are going in the wrong direction”. The changes are all local evidence of wider global climate change, which the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report stated during the week is unequivocally caused by human activity and threatens to wreak havoc on the world unless drastic measures are taken.
The Irish climate report warns that greenhouse gases driving global warming are at an all-time high. Compared with pre-industrial levels, carbon dioxide concentrations in the environment are up 50 per cent, methane has soared by almost 170 per cent and nitrous oxide concentrations are around 20 per cent higher. This is having far-reaching consequences right across the environment.
As well as warming up, the seas and ocean around us are rising and getting more acidic because they are absorbing carbon dioxide, pumped into the atmosphere by the burning of coal, oil and gas. Sensitive marine ecosystems, corals, shellfish and crustaceans around Ireland are already threatened. Our sea levels have risen on average by around 2mm to 3mm every year since the early 1990s. In Dublin Bay, sweeping into the largest population centre on the island, levels are heightening by around 1.7mm a year since 1938.
Rivers are feeling the impact of our footprint on the planet as well. Because of the increased rainfall, river flows are gathering pace across most of the country, disrupting ecosystems and bringing with it the increased threat of flooding, trends from between 1972 and 2017 show. But something different is happening in the south and particularly the east – again the main population centres. Here, river flows are decreasing, with evidence in recent years pointing to an “increase in potential drought conditions especially in the east.”
It’s all a bit grim?
In a word, yes. For Ireland, short-term risks include extreme weather events such as the devastating floods witnessed in Germany or drought extremes where most of the population lives. Longer term risks include sea level rises, coastal erosion and the dangers that poses to coastal communities and cities.