UK newspaper (mis)representations of the potential for a collapse of the Thermohaline Circulation

Neil Jennings, Mike Hulme

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


This article investigates the representation in UK national newspaper articles between August 1987 and April 2006 of the possibility of abrupt climate change. It focuses primarily on representations of the possibility of a collapse in the Thermohaline Circulation (THC) and uses coverage of the possibility of a collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) as a counterpoint. The article draws on a content analysis of newspaper articles and interviews with journalists, scientists and politicians. The THC issue was found to have received over three times more coverage than the WAIS issue despite both 'collapses' being deemed as equally unlikely by the IPCC. It is shown that the representation of the THC issue as the 'Gulf Stream' has been central to its media popularisation, but also that this representation has caused adverse reactions from some within the scientific community. Over 80 per cent of newspaper articles covering the THC issue put forward no indication of the probability of collapse or contained contradictory probabilities. It is suggested that the relatively large amount of coverage given to the THC issue, the absence of accompanying probabilistic statements, and the use of sensationalist headlines have had a significant influence on public perceptions of the climate future for the UK.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)444-456
Number of pages13
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2010

Cite this