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Global Warming May Disrupt Atlantic Ocean Current

Stephen Bernardino, Staff Writer

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Too much emitting of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere could shut down the major ocean current that brings warm water to the North Atlantic, as new climate simulations suggest.

The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) is an immense conveyor belt that transports heat from the South Atlantic and tropical North Atlantic to the subpolar and polar North Atlantic. The heat is released to the atmosphere with substantial impacts on climate over large regions, such as Europe.

Scientists previously researched about the possible effects of a collapsing AMOC, such as reduction of air-sea exchange, a cooler Europe, and a weakened oceanic convection between Greenland and Iceland seas.

“A warm western Europe requires a cold North Atlantic Ocean, and the warming that the North Atlantic is now experiencing has the potential to result in a cooling over Western Europe,” Professor Kent Moore stated.

‘The heat exchange is weaker – it’s like turning the stove down 20 per cent,’ continued Professor Moore. ‘We believe the weakening will continue and eventually cause changes in the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation and the Gulf Stream, which can impact the climate of Europe.’

The previous climate simulations anticipate that the Atlantic circulation would maintain
its stability. However, the simulations were flawed on characterizing the freshwater flows between Atlantic and Southern oceans, a key mechanism as the climate warms.

After such revisions, Yale University climate scientist Wei Liu and colleagues created an extreme climate scenario to test the current’s robustness. With a doubled CO₂ atmospheric concentration, the simulation showed drastic damage in the Atlantic current in 300 years.

While such a quick rise of CO₂ is seemingly idealistic, the simulation shows that the current is unstable. The researchers conclude January 4 in Science Advances. “The next step is to use a more realistic warming scenario to predict what the future will look like,” Liu says.

After doubling CO₂ concentrations, the researchers found that the North Atlantic warmed and the AMOC slowed. With less warm water moving northward, countries such as England and Iceland cooled even when considering the greenhouse warming from the added CO₂.

Scientists believe that this means a real-scenario of The Day After Tomorrow, where western Europe would simply become an ice-covered land area.

The researchers also found that as the AMOC slowed, less freshwater from the Atlantic flowed into the Southern Ocean. That lowered the Atlantic’s saltiness, further weakening and ultimately collapsing the AMOC. Meltwater from shrinking Greenland ice may also freshen the Atlantic, suppressing the AMOC, though the researchers didn’t look at this effect.

“I think it’s very, very important work,” says Tom Delworth, a scientist with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He also said that the research identified a clear weakness of most models and the misconceptions these flaws lead on foreseeing the future of climate change.
As scientists continue to research and improve the studies about the AMOC and its possible effects, there is definitely one certain thing: if we don’t control our carbon-emitting ways, we’ll be in for some nasty weather.

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