Friday, June 08, 2018

The Gulf Stream is at its weakest for 1,600 years - does anyone care?

With all the various distractions going on around the world - from trade wars to refugee crises to volcanic eruptions to sexual harrassment allegations to the Stanley Cup - it's easy to forget that climate change is still progressing apace, and little of substance is being done to address it (at least in North America).
So, it should probably come as no great surprise that a new report published the journal Nature concludes that the Gulf Stream is now at its weakest in the 1,600 years covered by the study. Using core samples off the coast of North Carolina, and other evidence from the shells of tiny marine animals in different parts of the Atlantic, the University College London study measures long-term ocean temperature trends and the strength and direction of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, better known by its more colloquil name, the Gulf Stream. The study provides a longer term context to other evidence that the Gulf Stream has slowed appreciably since reliable modern records of ocean temperatures started in 2004.
The Gulf Stream carries warmer water northwards up the American coast and then northeast across the Atlantic Ocean towards Northern Europe, before recirculating the cooler water back south. A weaker Gulf Stream could have some drastic, even catastrophic, climate effects, including more extreme winters in Western Europe, fast-rising sea levels on the Eastern seabord of the USA, and a disruption of tropical rains further south.
The indications are that the weakening Gulf Stream is at least partly a result of human-caused global warming. But with everything else that is going on, who is going to pay attention to a little matter like catastrophic climate change.

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