Story at a glance

  • The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, a current system that transports warm water to northern regions of the Atlantic, is showing signs of degradation.
  • Interruptions in the AMOC’s warm water delivery could cause massive weather changes due to an excess of cooler temperatures, affecting regions from Africa to the Amazon rainforest.
  • Some researchers believe the changes in the AMOC are linked to climate change.

A critical current system that plays a key role in transporting warmer and cooler waters throughout the Atlantic is in dire straits, and could potentially collapse, causing “severe” impacts on world temperatures.

New research suggests that the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), a series of currents that transport warm water across the Atlantic Ocean and into other regions as far north as the Nordic and Labrador Seas, is slowing down and bringing less warm water to the Northern Atlantic ecosystems.

The study authors looked at eight proxy indicators derived from observational sea surface temperatures and salinity data from the Atlantic Ocean basin. 

The declines in circulation registered from these variables is not just a fluctuation related to climate variability, making one potential culprit anthropomorphic climate change.


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Should the AMOC continue to be thrown from its equilibrium state and stop delivering warm waters up north, Earth’s other ecosystems could feel the repercussions of increased cooler temperatures and undergo destabilizing transitions, potentially affecting the Amazon rainforest, monsoon seasons for various continents and the Antarctic ice sheet. 

In short: Global weather patterns and temperatures stand to be dramatically altered.

Niklas Boer, the author of the study and a researcher at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, told reporters that while the outright collapse of the AMOC is not definite, these preliminary warnings should prompt greater action against climate change.

Previous scientific literature has confirmed that the AMOC is exhibiting weak levels of heat distribution. While historical records indicate that the AMOC is capable of seemingly natural fluctuations, some data indicates the more dramatic declines are most visible in the decades after the 19th century. 

“The mere possibility that the AMOC tipping point is close should be motivation enough for us to take countermeasures,” said Levke Caesar, a climate physicist at Maynooth University who assisted in the research, told The Washington Post. “The consequences of a collapse would likely be far-reaching.”


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Published on Aug 05, 2021