Dec 19, 2018 | Updated: 09:51 PM EST

Gulf Stream Slowed by Greenland Ice Sheet Melting

Mar 26, 2015 08:32 PM EDT


The 2014-15 winter was one of the warmest ever recorded in history according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. However, there is one area of the North Atlantic that hasn't been affected by this warming trend and the phenomenon has been the same since around 1970.

This particular area of the Atlantic has shown ocean temperatures that are 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit colder than the average. According to a recent study, this cold area of sea temperatures could be one of the indicators of a dramatic slowdown in the Gulf Stream. This situation worries scientists as the Gulf Stream is responsible for moving huge amounts of heat north from the equator passed the East Coast of the U.S. into the North Atlantic.

This could add credence to the theory put forth by experts stating that global warming could cause "tipping points" in the climate system. Some experts at the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change believe there is a 10% chance that the Gulf Stream could actually shut down by 2100 while some experts the likelihood of such a scenario is even higher.

Co-author Stefan Rahmstorf, a climate scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, in a blog post for RealClimate said, "Evidence is mounting that the long-feared circulation decline is already well underway. Evidence is mounting that the long-feared circulation decline is already well underway."

The slowdown of the Gulf Stream as the study finds is unprecedented and hasn't occurred in probably thousands of years. Another tipping point could be the Greenland ice sheet. The melting of the ice sheet brings a huge influx of cold freshwater to the Atlantic and is one of the main sources of freshwater inflow to the ocean.

As this freshwater, which is both lighter and colder than the heavier salt water pours into the area, it tends to sit on top of the water column. Over the years, this accumulation interferes with the formation and sinking of dense, cold and salt waters thus slowing the Gulf Stream and affecting the circulation of the ocean as well.

This rapid slowdown of the Gulf Stream combined with the melting of the ice sheets can increase sea levels along the highly populated Mid-Atlantic and Northeast coasts of the United States. It could also cause much colder conditions than normal in the northern parts of both Europe and America drastically effecting life as we know it in these areas.

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