7 March 1997

Plan for climate change now – weather expert

By Edward Long

NEW predictions of the effect of global warming on climate change suggest the average temperature in East Anglia will rise by 1.5-2C over the next 50 years.

The effect will be higher rainfall. But a higher evapotranspiration rate would bring a greater risk of drought, says Trevor Davies of the University of East Anglias climatic department.

"In the past the greenhouse effect has been exaggerated. But over the past year or two there has been a dramatic improvement in computer modelling, which has given us greater confidence to predict the future," says Prof Davies.

"Over the next few decades temperatures are predicted to rise everywhere around the world. In East Anglia we expect a 10% increase in winter rain, but a fall in the number of rain days."

The increase in winter rainfall could be offset by a sharp rise in the evapotranspiration rate. That will reduce moisture available for crops in summer and cut the amount of surface water available to top up rivers by up to 25%.

The impact on farming will be significant. Good yields of maize could be harvested every year across a much wider area of southern England. And grapes could be reliably grown as far north as Birmingham, he suggests.

Sea levels, which have risen by 10-15cm (4-6in) over the past 100 years, are projected to rise faster in future, particularly in East Anglia. Farmland in coastal areas of the region is vulnerable, as much of the coastline is easily eroded, Prof Davies adds.

"Farmers need to take the prospects of climate change seriously," he warns. "These are relatively rapid and occur over a short 10- to 20-year timescale. Over the past 10 years we have had rather more severe droughts than I would have expected from the experience of the first 60 to 70 years of this century." &#42