Sunday, 1 May 2016

A Brief History of Climate Change in Ireland

by Owen Martin

Scientists generally have little historical sense; Thus it happens that many ideas at different times are repeatedly conceived anew, without the initiator knowing that these subjects had been considered already before. According to their natural mentality, some researchers live so much in the present that they are inclined to think of every idea that occurs to them, or their group, as newAlbert Einstein, 1954

Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation with historic climate events

During the past two centuries or so, Ireland has had a cyclical temperature record with periods of both warming and cooling. Before that, there was the Little Ice Age and before that the Medieval Warming Period that allowed monks live on Skellig Michael Island.

Ireland's folklore is full of references to extreme snow and frost events.  In the 7th Century, it was believed that the sea between Ireland and Scotland froze over and people from both countries paid each other visits across the ice. If it did occur, it did so during the beginning of the Medieval warming period. More recently, during the Little Ice Age in 1784, there were reports of snow around Belfast 15 to 20 feet deep. In 1814, snow lay in Dublin streets 5 feet thick. In 1837, the village of Lewes in South East England was destroyed by a snow avalanche. Severe snowstorms hit Dublin in both 1845 and 1850 with the River Liffey reportedly freezing over in the former year. These two cold periods would have occurred during the Irish Famine which was caused by the spread of the potato disease blight. Severe frost would have exacerbated the destruction of the potato.

These events (since 1784) occurred during what became known as "The Little Ice Age". Temperature records from Armagh go as far back as 1800 and seem to support these events. So what of the long term trends ? Well, as we shall see things remained very cold in Ireland until the end of the 19th century.

If we look at two of the oldest temperature records from Ireland - Phoenix Park in Dublin and Valentia in Kerry - we see two similar but slightly different trends :

We can see that Phoenix Park (Dublin) has an upward heating trend overall. Possibly, and most likely, this is due to the urban heating effect as the city increased in size. By contrast, Valentia had no overall warming trend. There was warming until 1900, then cooling till 1920, then warming till 1950, then cooling till 1985 and warming again thereafter. At present, we've arrived back at 1940's temperatures whilst the 1980's had colder temperatures than anytime previous in the record. Valentia gives more accurate readings than Phoenix Park because of the simple fact that it lies way out on the South Western Coast away from urban areas.

Valentia records begin in the cold 1870s and 80s. In 1879, the Thames froze over three feet thick in some places. People freezing to death was not uncommon throughout Northern Europe. 1881 was a very cold year by all accounts, with rivers freezing over in Ireland :


Then in the 1890's, things began to warm up. By 1899, people had recognized the unusual warm climate that was occurring :


In July and August 1900, average temperatures ranged between 21 and 23 degrees Celsius - higher than the previous two summers of 2014 and 2015. "Brilliant bursts of sunshine alternated with drenching downpours of rain" it was reported at the time. This weather created very favourable conditions for potato blight and almost all areas of the country were affected by the fungus. 

Then, things started to cool once again, peaking in 1918 or 1919. In 1908, the Thames froze over (as recalled by George Orwell in Coming Up For Air).


1917 was remembered as the year of the snow with snowfalls in January and a severe snowstorm on April fools day, the worst for 50 years with snow depths reported of 18 inches deep. Valentia records indeed record 1917 as the worst on record at that stage but three years post 1960 were just as cold.

1919 was described as a sunless year. July, normally the hottest month of the year, was remarkably cold :


Man made CO2 emissions during this period were increasing as the Industrial Revolution progressed. However, in the timeframe we have looked at so far, we have had a period of warming (up to 1900) and then a period of cooling (up to 1919). So there must be natural forces at work. What part CO2 emissions had to play is therefore very hard to say but it would appear the answer is very little, if at all. 

Man made CO2 emissions begin to rise to levels higher than before post - 1919 with drops in 1929 when the worldwide recession kicks in and in 1940 during World War 2. Temperatures start to rise once again in this period, peaking around 1949 with temperatures that would not occur again until 1997 (an El Nino year). The interesting thing is that the most intensive CO2 activity, coal production, reduced drastically in the UK and America during the war years 1939 - 1945. 

But temperatures continued rising and peaked just after coal production sky rocketed after the war. 

In 1945, there are reports of Russian farmers working in the Arctic Circle as the ice begins to melt. Droughts occur in Ireland in the latter part of the 1940s. Because most of the electricity in Ireland was powered by hydro, electricity rationing is commonplace. A good reminder of what electricity is like when it is powered by mostly renewables and is at the mercy of the elements. An interesting cold blip occurred during January to March in 1947 which was the most severe cold spell of the century so far. Remarkably, temperatures did not rise above 5C during this period. Valentia records show this cold spell between two very large spikes. However, the general temperature trend was continued warming. In 1949, temperatures peaked and the country was hit by a heatwave. Temperatures hit 85 F in Tipperary on June 23rd - or 29 degrees Celsius. The highest temperature at the same station during the 2006 European heat wave was also 29 degrees


 In the same year, we find the first mention of something strange happening to the climate in the media. Reports about glaciers melting everywhere are what we are used to hearing today.  Geoffrey Hattersley Smith, the famous glaciologist is mentioned. Geoffrey died in 2012 and in his obituary he was described as been "careful about committing himself on paper" about global warming. This is probably not a surprise as he saw global warming happening before and the subsequent cooling.


So were we living in the last phase of the Ice Age ? Well as we shall see, the answer is no. Temperatures began to drop in 1950. In 1953 and 54, climate scientists and researchers were still talking about the global warming. In 1953, we find the first mention of "climate change". Mr E.V. Lane was a lecturer in Trinity College at the time and appeared on Radio to explain what had been happening to the climate. The resulting Irish Times article deserves a full blog article in its own right but suffice to say its interesting because both the advantages (increased farmland and harvest) and disadvantages (rising seas) of a warming world are given.  Mr Lane mentions Iceland as a country benefiting from warming with increased barley harvest but this was only to last for another few years as  "Frost having frequently damaged hayfields in many parts of Iceland, especially during the cold period in the 1960s-80s, reducing the potential hay production by 20-30% when it happened."   One can see here how Iceland has since benefited from increasing temperatures once again.

In 1954, we get the very first reference to greenhouse gases and man made climate change in an article written by Dr Gerald Wendt (click on pics to expand) : 


One of the most interesting claims that Dr. Wendt makes is that CO2 emissions had risen by 10% since 1900 and that this was sufficient to account for the 1 degree increase in global temperature. But CO2 emissions have risen exponentially since then so do we see a corresponding rise in temperatures ? Well, we now know that there is not a linear relationship between CO2 and temperature and that in fact there is a saturation point after which increasing levels of CO2 has but negligible impact on temperature. So we should begin to see a further rise in temperature in the second half of the 20th century, but progressively less so (if his theory is right). Also of note, is his final paragraph where he illustrates the advantages of a warmer world - higher farm yields and the large areas of land that will be available for food production.

However, Dr Wendt would have lost money in the bookies. Nature does not play by man's rules. By the early 1950s, the temperature began to drop, not just in Ireland, but everywhere. By the middle of the 1970s, it was as cold as the pre-1920s and got even colder towards the end of the decade. January and February of 1963 saw the coldest spell on record in Ireland and in England since 1740. The Beatles famously toured in a van up and down England that winter, lying on top of each other to keep warm.

From Met Eireann

The demise of grouse was partly blamed on climate change :

1975 Article

A drought occurred in Ireland during October 1974 to August 1976, the worst in some places for 150 years (1976 was the hottest (bucking the trend) and driest summer around Europe for many years). However, a few years later, the highest ever rainfall over a two day period was recorded at Valentia, in November 1980. According to Met Eireann, severe storms were not uncommon. All proving that extreme climatic events do not just occur during warm periods.

By 1978, the idea of global cooling was accepted nearly everywhere. I've written previously about this here. Irish observatories were showing very cold conditions :

ESB could not cope with the increased electricity demand and power cuts were commonplace during 1978 as demand for electric heaters went up. The harsh winter of 1978/9 claimed 88 lives around Europe (full article at end). Out of a sample of 28, 82% of climate scientists agreed that the world was getting colder :


The same article claims that the Northern hemisphere cooled by 3F since the mid 1940s, roughly equivalent to a drop of 1.5C. 

The Valentia temperature record backs up the idea that the world was cooling at the time. It would be interesting to find out what impact this had on culture at the time but I dont have enough space to do that here. But here is a taster. The music scene in Manchester in early 1980 sounded like this :

Joy Division sounded like Manchester: cold, sparse and at times bleak - Bernard Sumner, musician in Joy Division

One could argue that CO2 emissions decreased during the two oil crises of the 1970s. The problem is that all graphs for historical CO2 emissions show continued rising of CO2 emissions during this period and the second half of the 20th century, as coal use (especially in China) goes through the roof. So what was causing the cooling that everyone experienced ? 

What happens after this is that once again, the climate experts were proved wrong. Ireland (and the world) begins to warm up (again) in about 1986 till the present day, with a huge dip in 2010. It is during this period that the "Global Warming" and then post 2010 "Climate Change" movement takes hold on man's natural tendency towards hysteria. That is not to say that CO2 does not have an impact on climate, but when one examines climate history, it becomes harder and harder to claim that it is the main driver.  I believe it is thermal dynamics in ocean currents that is the main driver, which may well be driven by a number of different factors such as changes in solar activity. Compare the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO) with the Valentia temperature record. A high correlation can be seen :

Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation 1880 - 2010


Contemporary scientists claimed that there was warming of 1C between 1850 -1950, then cooling of 1.5C between 1950-1977. As you can see from above, Valentia pretty much backs this up. Then warming again of over 1C, bringing us back to 1950 levels. The temperature data that is released today to back up global warming claims steady and gradual warming during the same period and no cooling (or in some cases just reduced warming). So were their contemporary climate scientist colleagues wrong ?  Well, the Valentia record backs them up.

Based on the above past records, the most likely direction for temperature now is towards cooling, rather than warming.  Recent Sea Surface Temperatures in the Atlantic support this:

The cycle continues. So would you rather live in a warmer or colder world ? Which poses the greatest threat ? Personally, I would have to agree with the climate scientists of the 1970s :




  1. Sadly there is an increasing disconnect from what occurred in history and a blind even pathological belief in whatever is the latest trendy cause. Like it our not, the ability of CO2 to have a warming impact is rapidly decreasing as emissions of CO2 rise, this is because the relationship is logarithmic and not linear. Neither can CO2 on its own create enough of a warming effect to heat the planet by more than 1.2C, which is nothing, i.e. equivalent to us all moving some 200 km closer to the equator, Belfast gets Cork's climate, etc. So if there was to be any radical change in our climate due to CO2, we would have seen it by now and nothing we have seen to date is outside of natural variability and trends one would expect.

    So why the hysteria? Is it just part of the human condition? Certainly history would tend to confirm that. Secondly do people know what they have put their blind faith into? Do they care, do they research it? Is fail to prepare hence prepare to fail rampant? Not least as decision making by the crowd is more characterised by its stupidity than its wisdom.

    I was in a presentation in Maynooth in December 2014 by three speakers Marian Harkin MEP, Colm McCarthy and Eamon Ryan. As far as Eamon Ryan is concerned, its a quasi-religion and one can only quote Johnathan Swift: "There is nothing more useless to attempt to reason a man out of thing he was never reasoned into". However, what amazed me was the repeated blind 'devotion' of the other two speakers to this religion of climate change, how scientists knew best, the matter was proven, there was an overriding imperative to take drastic action. There was simply no plan 'B', no alternative.

    However, equally evident with this blind devotion to the one and only true cause, was their complete lack of competency in the subject matter. They never at any stage had made the slightest effort to understand the substance upon which their blind beliefs rested.

    So anyhow, here are some samples worth considering, as how the IPCC itself treats 'uncertainities' for which to put it mildly there are a lot in its output:

    See pages 114 and 115:

    Also Pages 138 to 142:

    So they don't understand for instance how clouds are formed and the big oceanic drivers, the El Nino Southern Oscillation in the Pacific and the North Atlantic Oscillation and associated AMO closer to home, actually function. So the impacts of the biggest climatic drivers on the planet are unknown and cannot be predicted.

    However, to Marian and Colm the 'science was settled', there was no Plan B, drastic measures had to be taken and we all had to get stuck in to these drastic measures.

    God help us from fools and those who do not do their homework before they jump on the bandwagon of trendy causes.

  2. Being a farmer, a hunter and fisherman since the 1960's, I honestly cannot say there is any increase in the temperature of the Irish air since then. While a respecter of the right to worship, I experienced extreme devotion to the catholic and protestant religions which caused people to invent science and think irrationally. In my earlier days I experienced Irish and British media evolution from newsprint to radio and television.It used to be objective in current affairs, tended towards science and give us a lighthearted laugh on Sunday evenings. Gay Byrne would bring on contrarians like Frank Hall and Ulick O'Connor on his late late late show to challenge conventional orthodoxy. Of course child sex abuse was kept off the agenda, but the present climate change issue would be debated openly at that time.

    Not now, governments and the media simply refuse to any proper debate, any documentaries or other thought provoking programmes.
    This has caused a semi conscious reaction among the wider public so we are now seeing a bottom up movement with the nomination of Donald Trump, UKIP and independent politicians in Ireland. They represent the reaction of the section of the public who reject the manipulation of science.

    There is a human tendency to go with the herd, to follow the do- gooder so long as it affects someone else. But its is beginning to effect everyone and that will force more rational debate. Shame on the media, lucky we have the internet to counter them. It has just been announced that Germany will abandon its target for greening transport post 2020. Just note how this will get no media coverage. Voters won't do without their cars and they are best run on petrol and diesel. That won't change anytime soon.

  3. Try this:

    The problem with all the above is that it is strictly local.
    When talking of Climate change you must look at the entire world because local effects may well be different.
    We all know, ask any farmer that the springs are currently dry and cold, the summers cool. This has happened before of course but if you look at the position and structure of the arctic Vortex it is clear that what is happening is that the vortex has weakened and been pushed south so we are spending much time on the interface between the Arctic air mass and the southern so it it quite possible to claim that we are not warming here and indeed may be cooling a bit but it is explained as part of Climate change.

    1. Many of the things "explained" by climate change theory have not come to pass. The Greenland ice sheet is still there for example :,Graticule&t=2015-08-02&v=-3552927.2140230127,-3142713.6470323494,2042208.7859769873,-508985.64703234937

      The importance of Valentia temp record cannot be understated. It has not been contaminated by urban heat effect. Whereas as I have shown, the Dublin temp record does show warming, but most of this is Urban Heat. So if you take the Bloomberg graph, most of the warming is due to urban heat effect. The line cannot be linear. Contemporary scientists from around the world tell us it was cooling during the 60s/70s. Valentia supports this. So the article does not just deal with "localized variation" as you contend.

      My contention that modern climate scientists have lost their historical sense is thus confirmed.

    2. Also the AMO is anything but "local", its an entire ocean.