New research led by the University of Southampton and in partnership with Yale has shown that the continuing decline in sea ice around the artic could weaken ocean currents in the North Atlantic. This could lead to the alteration of climates in western European, including the UK, leading to harsher winters and an increase in storms.
Dr Florian Sevellec of the University of Southampton, lead author of the paper that was published in Nature Climate Change has shown that changes in the ocean currents due to the melting of sea ice…
…would have significant impacts on our daily weather, since the slow-down of this circulation, and its induced ocean surface cooling, has been shown in other studies to lead to an increase in storminess, to harsher winters, and to drier summers in Europe, for instance.
The study revolved around looking at the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), a large-scale ocean circulation system, which includes the northwards flow of salty water from the South Atlantic (commonly known as the Gulf Stream). There has been much talk and debate surrounding whether global warming could cause Arctic melt water to have an impact on the Gulf Stream (which is responsible for keeping Britain wet and warm).
The Gulf Stream’s impact on the UK’s climate can easily be seen as the UK is much warmer than parts of Canada, which is located on the same latitude as us, yet has much colder harsher winters. Now, with this paper, researchers have found a mechanism that links the ocean currents to the loss of sea ice, summed up by co-author and professor at Yale University, Alexey Fedorov:
Our study establishes a new mechanism that links the loss of sea ice and the AMOC. Potentially, this mechanism could lead to a reduction of between 30 and 50 per cent of the AMOC’s strength.
This new mechanism was discovered by the combination of comprehensive climate change model simulations with computational methods to measure the sensitivity of ocean currents due to fluctuations of temperature and salinity at the ocean’s surface over time.
At the moment, no one is quite sure what the widespread effects and implications of this will be, but most predictions do not paint a bright picture. If we continue to heat the Earth at the rate that we are at the moment, we will find out soon enough….