We gardeners here in the UK should thank our lucky stars for the wonder that is the Gulf Stream. Without it our average annual temperatures would be lowered substantially and we'd be 'enjoying' the same kind of climate as that found in Labrador. It also means we have one of the widest choices of plants in the world for our garden palette: from dainty alpines through to lush tropical foliage. It's one of the things that helps to shape us as a nation of gardeners.
What is the Gulf Stream? It's a northerly flowing ocean current which brings warm water to us from the Gulf of Mexico. It's part of the 'conveyor belt' of water flowing between that area and the Arctic. In the latter region, water cools, sinks because it's heavier and starts to flow southwards to replace its warmer, lighter counterpart flowing northwards.
And what has this to do with the miserable looking olive tree in my garden? We all know how bad the last winter has been and my poor unprotected olive tree is suffering as a result. One of the reasons for this could be because scientists have found the Gulf Stream to be 30% weaker than it was half a century ago. This may have been sufficient to allow the colder, north continental European air to dominate for longer periods over the UK than usual and in turn block the warmer, wetter Atlantic weather systems we know and love coming in from the south-west.
Of course it's rather simplistic to say a weaker Gulf Stream explains our cold winter, or to extrapolate this means all our winters will be cold from now on should it remain in its weaker state. Our weather and climate are much more complex than just one factor governing it and after all, we usually have one bad winter in around seven of them anyway. However, it's interesting to note the Met Office has increased its scientific monitoring in Greenland to see how this area impacts on the Gulf Stream and in turn our weather/climate here in the UK.
It also shows the impact of Global Warming may mean we might not be reaching for the shorts and shades after all...
For more in the way of G, do have a look at the ABC Wednesday blog.