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3.5 Climate change in the UK

Climate change in the UK tutorial

Scoat Tarn. Image © Ewan ShillandIn the UK, temperatures have risen by about 0.7°C since 1659 (source: UKCIP website).

The UK Climate Impacts Programme website has more information about climate change and trends in the UK.

Future climate predictions for the UK

The most recent predictions of future UK climate are the UK Climate Projections (UKCP09). They have been developed using output from the Met Office's Hadley Centre climate model HadCM3. The predictions are based on three 'scenarios' of emissions: high, medium and low. Predictions are made for the 2020s, 2050s and 2080s.

Here you can find the full set of key findings of UKCP09. Below we have shown just a selection. The projections are to the 2080s.

 

Variable
Projection (to 2080s)
Change in mean air temperature

In winter, the central estimates of change are projected to be between 2 and 3ºC across most of the country, with slightly larger changes in the south east and slightly smaller in the north west of Britain.

In summer a more pronounced south to north gradient exists with changes in some parts of southern England being just over 4ºC and in parts of northern Scotland about 2.5ºC.

Changes in mean air temperature over marine regions

UKCP09 gives projections of changes into the seasonal-mean air temperature over the nine marine regions around the UK.

Modelled changes in temperature in all cases are larger in the south and smaller in the north and reflects the degree to which areas are affected by proximity to continents or open oceans.

Even by the 2080s under the highest emission scenario, the models show projected reductions in mean air temperature in the Atlantic NW Approaches in both summer and winter; in summer, cooling also extends to the Scottish Continental Shelf area. This is due to large natural variability in climate.

Change in precipitation (rain and snow)

In winter, it is expected to become wetter. Predicted precipitation increases range from +10 to +30% over the majority of the country. Increases are smaller than this in some parts of the country, generally on higher ground.

By contrast, summers are likely to be drier, There is a general south to north gradient, from decreases of almost 40% in SW England to almost no change in Shetland.

Considering the year as a whole, annual mean precipitation is not projected to change much.

 

Indicators of climate change

In 2003 a group of scientists published a series of indicators of climate change. They were developed at the request of the UK Government, who wanted a set of easy-to-understand indicators of how the UK climate was changing, the pace of change and the impacts of this change. The indicators included things like air temperature in Central England, sea level rise, the amount of gas supplied to UK households and the number of ski-lift and tow passes sold each year at the five main Scottish skiing centres.

It was hoped that using these indicators it would be possible to say with more certainty whether and how the climate was changing.

The Environmental Change Network collects data which are relevant to some of the indicators. In the exercise below you will explore these.

 

Exercise

  • You can explore the ECN climate change indicator data online. Here is what to do:
    • Open our Environmental Indicators page in a new window or tab
    • Choose an indicator and click the button to view the data
    • You can either select a site on the map and view data for just that site, or click to view graphs for all sites side-by-side (this is better if you want to compare the different sites)
    • Look at the questions below.

Questions

  • Do any of the indicators appear to show a clear signal of climate change at any of the sites?
  • Do you think some indicators are more useful than others (take a look at the original climate change indicators report to see all the indicators that were developed)?
  • These indicators were developed in 2003. Can you think of a new indicator of climate change in the UK?