The weather is a subject that many in Britain like to discuss. According to a study in 2018, the average Briton spends the equivalent of four and a half months of their life discussing the weather. When it comes to global warming, however, the conversation takes on a new significance, as data models suggest the UK’s climate and environment could be dramatically altered in the event of temperature increases.

Although global warming refers to temperature rises, the impact of warmer climates could lead to other changes in weather, such as altered seasons and rainfall patterns. In the case of the United Kingdom, these changes could be particularly pronounced, due to the country’s exposure to sea currents in the Atlantic ocean.

Weather reports in the UK frequently refer to the Gulf Stream, a warm ocean current which originates in the Gulf of Mexico, and follows the east coast of America before crossing the Atlantic towards the British isles. The Gulf Stream provides the UK with milder winters – without the Gulf Stream, the UK may face colder weather more familiar with Canada. However, in the event of global warming, the knock on effect of melting ice caps in Greenland could have a huge impact on the Gulf Stream.

In 2019, a study by the University of Groningen and Utrecht University found that oceans are affected by the amount of fresh water at the surface. If global warming continues, and ice caps continue to melt, introducing more fresh water to the world’s oceans, the behaviour of currents like the Gulf Stream could change. According to their study, the two institutions judged there to be a 15% likelihood of disruptions in next 100 years of the delivery of warm water via the Gulf Stream, which could reduce UK and Northern European temperatures.

In another study published in 2018, however, Professor Ka-Kit Tung from the University of Washington told the BBC that “The headlines have said that the Gulf Stream is collapsing and the Ice Age is coming sooner than scientists think … The answer from our work is no to both of them”. Professor Tung’s research found that instead, “The air temperatures globally will be warming and there’s no barrier for that so there won’t be much cooling in the UK, you will probably still see the normal global warming”.

Whether or not the UK will see colder or warmer temperatures, most scientists agree that global warming will change the climate in Britain and around the world. For the UK, sea level rises caused by melting ice caps could cause particular problems for the country’s over 31,000km coastline. In recent years, sea level rises have seen increased coastal erosion, with further sea level rises expected to cause more coastal flooding. Temperature will play a huge role in the UK’s climate, but whether colder or warmer, higher sea levels will also fundamentally alter life in Britain. For this reason, preventing global warming by reducing carbon emissions remains an essential target for both the United Kingdom and the world.