Mike Rowbottom

Budge up W(indy). Move over A(ltitude). There's a new asterisk in town: GWA - Global Warming Assisted.

Sprinters and jumpers may not know about this yet, but whether they know it or not they are going to benefit from the lessening air resistance which our dogged attempts at creating more and more greenhouse gases is bringing about.

Unless of course someone decides there is a bigger picture here. But let's not hold our increasingly thin breath over that.

And let's not be dog-in-the-manger about this. OK, so we're all heading for extinction. But en-route we're going to enjoy some increasingly sensational athletics performances.

And, even more dramatically, we are likely to be witnessing increasingly humungous golf drives, increasingly spectacular long range goals and increasingly numerous baseball home runs.

The latter phenomenon is now scientifically proven. (I think. Although as I dropped all sciences at school as early as possible I can't personally vouch for it).

A new study published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society has found that more than 500 home runs since 2010 can be linked to global warming, and if temperatures continue to rise then climate change could be responsible for hundreds more home runs per season in the coming decades.

Christopher Callahan, a PhD candidate in climate science at Dartmouth College, is the lead author of the document, and he explained its findings with exemplary clarity during an interview with CNN.

"We found that climate change increases home runs," he said. "The shortened version is that when air is warmer it's less dense which means there is less air resistance for balls to encounter as they fly through the air.

"And so as temperatures warm, balls are going to fly further. This effect is relatively small at present but could get stronger as we continue to emit greenhouse gas."

Asked how other factors had been ruled out, he responded: "We did two different things. The first is that we used data on 100,000 baseball games going back 60 years on temperature and home runs on all of those games, and we were able to control for the factors like ballpark elevation, the distance of the fences, and other factors that also might affect the likelihood of the home run.

Global warming is responsible for a marked rise in Major League Baseball home runs, a new scientific study claims ©Getty Images
Global warming is responsible for a marked rise in Major League Baseball home runs, a new scientific study claims ©Getty Images

"The second component was to use climate models, so these computer simulations of the climate that allow us to distinguish between human-caused climate change and natural variations in the earth's temperature.

"And so we can specifically attribute home runs to human-caused climate change."

He added: "I haven't studied any other major American sport but I certainly expect that any sport that relies upon balls flying through the air will face this challenge. So football, golf, potentially cricket might all experience similar effects."

Callahan suggested that if Major League Baseball (MLB) wants to alleviate this growing phenomenon - and he acknowledged that it might be just fine and dandy for many of the game's followers - it could take measures such as putting roofs on stadiums, playing more night games and altering the density of the baseball so that it does not fly as far.

Were the MLB to pursue the latter option there would be clear parallels with the alterations made in international athletics to the balance of the javelin, after Uwe Hohn's huge 1984 world record of 104.80 metres meant that, in all but the largest stadiums, athletics spectators were in danger of getting speared.

Similar action could be taken with footballs, although FIFA’s record on this is unpromising given that they seem to have promoted beach balls in recent years.

A golf drive on the surface of the moon by Apollo 14 astronaut Alan Shepard went, in his words,
A golf drive on the surface of the moon by Apollo 14 astronaut Alan Shepard went, in his words, "miles and miles and miles". In future, global warming could provide the same experience for earthly golfers ©NASA

What will the golfing authorities make of this challenge, I wonder, as drives become similar to the one taken on the surface of the moon in 1971 by Apollo 14 astronaut Alan Shepard that went, in his own words, “for miles and miles and miles?"

Callahan said he had been prompted to undertake the research after hearing more and more speculation on the connection between warmer temperatures and home runs from physicists and sports writers.

There was one other solution that he mentioned.

"The short version is that we have to cut our greenhouse gas emissions," he said. "That is the conclusion of every climate study and it's the conclusion of this one as well.

"In the short term it would be great for MLB to take a leading role in calling for sustainability.

"Our study in particular I think highlights the pervasive way in which climate change will affect every aspect of our lives. It's not just hurricanes and heatwaves, it's the influence of it on our leisure activities and the things we do for fun.

"So I think highlighting a role of climate change in this context may help drive it home for some people."

That would surely be the best of home runs.