Atlantic faces collapse that could cause climate chaos in Europe

Dmytro IvancheskulLife
Changing sea weather will trigger abnormal temperatures across Europe

The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), a system of currents in the Atlantic that carry warm water northward where it cools and sinks to the bottom, could collapse in the coming decades, or even years. This is fraught with powerful weather cataclysms to the whole of Europe.

This is according to an article by Professor of Oceanography and Climate Robert Marsh of the University of Southampton, published on The Conversation. The existence of AMOCs is a key reason why Europe's climate has remained stable for millennia.

"There is a lot of uncertainty in the latest predictions, and some scientists are not convinced that collapse is imminent. The AMOC is also only part of the broader Gulf Stream system, much of which is driven by winds that will continue to blow even if the AMOC collapses. Consequently, part of the Gulf Stream will survive the collapse," the scientist writes.

However, as Marsh notes, he has studied the link between Atlantic currents and climate for decades and is convinced that "the destruction of the AMOC would lead to more climate chaos in Europe and beyond." The professor notes that "this is a risk worth being aware of."

He tells us that it is because of the AMOC that people living in the north of Europe have a warmer climate than those living at similar latitudes elsewhere.

The professor notes that, for example, January temperatures in western Norway are 20°C above the average latitude. Similar currents have made the northeast Pacific - western Canada and Alaska - 10°C warmer, while prevailing westerly winds mean that the northwest Atlantic and northwest Pacific are much colder, as are nearby land areas in eastern Canada and Siberia.

How ocean temperature is related to weather

The climatologist explains that Europe has experienced particularly unusual weather in recent years, both in winter and summer. At the same time, particular patterns of sea surface temperature have emerged in the North Atlantic. Large stretches of ocean from the tropics to the Arctic are holding temperatures 1-2°C above or below normal for months or even years at a time.

"These patterns seem to have a strong influence on the atmosphere, even affecting the direction and strength of jet currents," the professor noted.

He added that some of these sea surface temperature patterns are linked to changes in AMOC. But the connection is much more complex than one might assume.

In his paper, Marsh cited three examples where AMOC problems triggered major climate change.

From 2009 to 2011, northern Europe experienced several severe winters associated with a short-term slowdown in AMOC. At the same time, heat waves intensified in the tropics, leading to an unusually active hurricane season in June-November 2010.

In the mid-2010s, climatologists detected a "cold spot" in the North Atlantic that reached its peak in the summer of 2015. The "spot" then became one of the few parts of the world that was cooler than the long-term average while Central Europe was hit by a heat wave.

"The cold spot suspiciously resembled the reflection of an attenuated AMOC, but my colleagues and I subsequently attributed this transient episode to more localized atmospheric forcing," the scientist noted.

In 2017, the tropical Atlantic was warmer than usual again, leading to another unusually active hurricane season. That same warming in the Northeast in late 2017 may have contributed to Hurricane Ophelia, which originated off the Azores and reached the coast of Ireland in October.

"Based on these few examples alone, we can expect a more substantial reorganization of North Atlantic surface temperatures to have profound implications for climate in Europe and beyond," the professor wrote.

Large extreme fluctuations in ocean temperatures could change the nature of weather systems that feed on heat and moisture from the sea, he said. As a result, temperatures would rise above current extremes and Atlantic storms could become more destructive.

The professor warns that more extreme ocean temperatures could further impact tropical storms and jet streams, sending storms to increasingly unlikely destinations.

"If the AMOC collapses, we can expect large temperature extremes, cold, drought and flooding - a range of 'surprises' that will exacerbate the current climate emergency. The potential climate impacts - particularly for Europe - should add urgency to decision-making," he summarized.

Earlier OBOZREVATEL told about the fact that scientists predicted climate "loops" in 15 years. They can destroy the existing ecosystems of the Earth.

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