The strength of the Florida Current, which marks the beginning of the Gulf Stream, has weakened in force to the lowest level of the past 110 years, according to new research.
The current flows between Florida and Cuba before becoming the Gulf Stream near the Bahamas.
While precise measurements of the current go back to only the early 1980s, scientists say they were able to determine its past strength by how it affected coastal sea levels in the region.
The study confirms earlier findings that show the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation is slowing down due to climate change. That complex of currents wields a key warming influence across the Atlantic to much of northern Europe.
Gulf Stream slowdown to moderate warming in Europe
New research confirms the likelihood of a Gulf Stream slowdown in the North Atlantic. Scientists suggest the phenomenon will spare Europe from the worst of global warming.
Thermohaline Circulation is a massive ocean current system that carries warm water from the tropics north toward Europe. As water evaporates in the North Atlantic its salinity and density increase, and it sinks, cools and is carried south again.
The global conveyor belt includes wind-driven warm water surface currents like the Gulf Stream and North Atlantic Drift — currents that moderate temperatures along the East Coast of the United States and Europe’s west coast.
Scientists have long predicted the Thermohaline Circulation would slow as global warming encouraged precipitation and polar melting, flooding the world’s oceans with cold freshwater.
Some researchers have speculated that a slowdown could precipitate an ice age in Europe.
New modeling by a team of researchers from the University of Sussex, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and the University of California, Berkeley, show that’s not the case.
The slowdown won’t reverse global warming and plunge Europe into another ice age. Instead, it is expected to slow the rate of warming in the region. While the rest of the world warms more quickly, Europe will warm at a moderated pace.
Global Warming Is Slowing Ocean Currents
Climate scientists Michael Mann and Stefan Rahmstorf announced the findings of their new study yesterday, which shows that the rapid melting of the polar ice has slowed down currents in the Atlantic Ocean, particularly since 1970. The scientists say “the slowdown in ocean currents will result in sea level rise in cities like New York and Boston, and temperature changes on both sides of the Atlantic,”.
Mann explains the consequences of the Gulf Stream shutting down and how it would drastically alter the climate in Europe and North America. The last time this happened, about 12,000 years ago, at the end of the last ice age, North America and Europe went back into a mini-ice age, Mann says. Not only would North America and Europe experience colder temperatures, but “If those current systems shut down, then suddenly the North Atlantic [fisheries] would no longer be productive,” says Mann.
Mann says a shutdown of the Gulf Stream might happen a lot sooner than the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report predicts. “Our studies suggest we are much closer to that than the current model suggests. A full shutdown … could be decades from now.”