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On a global level, there has been a general increase in average temperature of 0.1°C since 1961 (Nolan et al., 2009). Highest rates in Ireland were observed between 1993 and 2003 with an average increase of 0.6°C. Known to be a result of heightened levels of greenhouse gases, atmospheric temperature change is having detrimental effects on the entire planet.
A study by Cannaby and Hüsrevoglu (2009) has listed many of the resulting effects of ‘global warming’ include temperature change and altered salinity. Increased temperatures have caused serious decreases in the thickness of the polar ice caps which, not only is devastating for the plants and animals found in polar regions but, has created a higher influx of freshwater, particularly in subpolar regions.
Although no specific trend has been observed in Irish waters, in terms of reduced salinity (Nolan et al., 2009), there has been a noted increase in salinity within the North Atlantic Subpolar Gyre since 1995. Increased temperature has also been observed within this cold current which interacts with the warmer Gulf Stream to create the weather patterns observed along much of the west coast of Ireland. Increased rainfall associated with the warming of these two currents combined with rising sea levels is contributing to the annual retreat of 0.5-1m of Atlantic coastlines (Cooper and Pilkey, 2004).
Melting ice caps are not only adding more freshwater to the oceans, but causing them to rise. Sea levels are rising at roughly 2mm each year, with European waters exhibiting 50% higher rates than other areas (Woodworth et al., 2005). By 2100, sea levels are estimated to be up to 1.2m higher than they are currently. For coastal areas this causes serious concern. Residential property, agricultural lands and, local businesses could all be under water in less than 100 years, representing billions in lost income for the people of South West Cork. Not only that but, beaches and wetlands are being constantly altered and destroyed by rapidly changing weather patterns.