Gulf Stream Slowing Down

Mar 29, 2015 By Anita R
Anita R's picture

Could an Ice Age depicted in the 2004 movie “The Day After Tomorrow” be soon upon us?

According to a new study by researchers at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, we are witnessing a slowdown of the great ocean circulation that drives the Gulf Stream current off the US east coast.

What does it mean and how could it affect us? Let's find out.

The Global Conveyor Belt

Connecting the oceans of the world is a deep-water current known as the global conveyor belt. This flow (see notes) is driven by the density difference in the water and is sometimes referred to as the thermohaline circulation because the movement of water is dependent on its temperature (thermo) and salinity (haline).

In the case of the Gulf Stream, warm water from the tropics travel along the Gulf of Mexico, up the eastern shores of the US, and eventually veers off eastward to split into what is called the North Atlantic current. It carries warm waters to the western shores of Europe acting as a heat pump to lessen the intensity of the cold in Europe. Eventually, when the current encounters cold water from melting polar ice caps, the cold salty water sinks because of its density and travels back southward.

But this flow may be changing.

The key to the North Atlantic current is the fact that cold salt water is denser than warm water and it sinks. However, global warming is increasing the glacial melt in the North Pole and Greenland. The increase in freshwater would dilute the salinity of ocean water -- making it less dense and reducing its tendency to sink. Too much more of melting can eventually shut down the circulation.

The slowdown in the circulation will result in rising sea levels. Especially vulnerable are cities such as New York and Boston. This is because warm water tends to expand, and this is true of the Gulf Stream flowing northwards along the US East Coast. And indeed, researchers have found a 4-inch rise in sea level along the US East Coast in 2009 and 2010.

Joining the Dots

To help them explain their hypothesis, scientists reconstructed sea surface temperatures in the North Atlantic. They noticed surface temperatures began weakening around 1970, but temporarily recovered in the 1990s.

Meanwhile, global temperatures have been on the rise during the past few winters around the world. The region on the North Atlantic just south of Greenland, between Canada and Britain has actually been becoming colder – an indicator of less northward heat transport. And though circulation has weakened by about 15 to 20 percent, nothing like this has happened in over 1000 years!

While scientists have worried about polar ice melting and its effect on sea level rise, its pace has been faster than previously expected. One thing scientists know of sure -- shutting down of this circulation will almost certainly affect global weather, maybe not dramatic enough to cause an Ice Age.

Courtesy: NOAA

Comments

lanem's picture
lanem April 9, 2015 - 8:12pm
I think it would be good if it got a lot colder. I like it that it's been getting colder in Canada because I would like to snowboard there and it makes it better for snowsports.
aydena's picture
aydena April 9, 2015 - 2:14pm
cool but damage worthy
alexac3's picture
alexac3 April 9, 2015 - 1:22pm
I think that it is completely possible to have another Ice Age, although, I don't think that it will happen in our lifetime. I honestly do think it's global warming but I'm not sure. But if all this does happen, what will happen to life as we know it?
isaacg4's picture
isaacg4 April 9, 2015 - 1:20pm
I think this is a very interesting article. I think that could be a possibility but not in out life time.
charlesr2's picture
charlesr2 April 9, 2015 - 1:18pm
I think that this is a very cool discovery. I also think that its kind of cool and scary at the same time that we might be going in to a new ice age. What would happen to us?
donavink's picture
donavink April 9, 2015 - 12:29pm
This is one of the most interesting articles because the rising of the sea levels might cause another ice age. But this could also be a major/serious issue to our environment. How will we ever survive the freezing cold temperature? What will happen to mankind if this ice age ever happens?
donavink's picture
donavink April 9, 2015 - 12:29pm
This article is very interesting on what's gonna happen! What do you think? How in the world will we survive in such cold temperatures. What will happen if there is an ice age?
tylerh7's picture
tylerh7 April 9, 2015 - 9:46am
I think this is kid of bad, that the river is slowing down. What if the river completely freezes. Maybe possible there could be another ice age.
regans's picture
regans April 9, 2015 - 8:48am
This is very cool I didn't know that the ocean had different waves. Or that the ocean could effect global warming.
breannap3's picture
breannap3 April 9, 2015 - 8:46am
I think that this article is very interesting and is going to make the scientist think about it if an ice age ever does occur again. The biggest question will be how will we survive because this the way some of the dinosaurs died.
breannap3's picture
breannap3 April 9, 2015 - 8:46am

I think that this article is very interesting and is going to make the scientist think about it if an ice age ever does occur again. The biggest question will be how will we survive because this the way some of the dinosaurs died.

Waker of the Winds's picture
Waker of the Winds April 8, 2015 - 10:05pm
So the Gulf Stream is slowing down. This might be problematic not just for us but for turtles too as they rely on it to swim as far as they do as quickly as they do.
reganm's picture
reganm April 8, 2015 - 7:04am
it think this is really cool but I don't think that we will have an ice age. It is possible though. What do you think will happen?
hopeg4's picture
hopeg4 April 6, 2015 - 6:15pm

Cool!

El-Miracle Akpan's picture
El-Miracle Akpan April 5, 2015 - 6:27am

Nice.

Smilebunny's picture
Smilebunny April 3, 2015 - 7:08pm
Wow
raylees's picture
raylees April 2, 2015 - 9:28am

I find this article very interesting I never knew that the ocean had all kinds of different currents or that they could affect global weather.

ashleys7's picture
ashleys7 April 9, 2015 - 12:36pm
I agree most people don't worry about global warming. Have you wondered what would happen if we didn't have global weather?
diamondh4's picture
diamondh4 April 1, 2015 - 6:27pm

I agree with Jordan because it is possible to have an ice age but I highly doubt it. It would we a lot of ice to create and ice age. But I also wouldn't be surprised if the world had an ice age. Do you agree with me?

coltonw2's picture
coltonw2 April 1, 2015 - 4:49pm

Climate change happens its how the dinosaur's went extinct I don't think humans have anything to do with it. I don't believe Boston will go under water. this is a interesting topic that people have been debating for years.

nayelig2's picture
nayelig2 April 1, 2015 - 4:34pm

This article is very interesting on what's gonna happen! What do you think? How in the world will we survive in such cold temperatures. What will happen if there is an ice age?

nicholasl's picture
nicholasl April 1, 2015 - 12:58pm

This is one of the most interesting articles because the rising of the sea levels might cause another ice age. But this could also be a major/serious issue to our environment. How will we ever survive the freezing cold temperature? What will happen to mankind if this ice age ever happens?

alexac3's picture
alexac3 April 9, 2015 - 1:24pm
Exactly, I don't know if there is a way that we would be able to survive the cold temperatures. I think that life as we know it will be over if this ice age does happen. Honestly, it is a little scary to think that this is changing our environment, maybe it's an issue we can't resolve.
breannap3's picture
breannap3 April 9, 2015 - 8:53am
I do think that it will be a very great problem but we have time to prepare for it because its not like it will happen tomorrow so scientist and people have time to study it and see what they can do.
breannap3's picture
breannap3 April 9, 2015 - 8:53am

I do think that it will be a very great problem but we have time to prepare for it because its not like it will happen tomorrow so scientist and people have time to study it and see what they can do.

ivanr2's picture
ivanr2 April 1, 2015 - 12:56pm

Very interesting article I think it could be possibly but not in our life time. The pollution could be a major cause. People should focus on ways to help the other and not destroy it, Iam I wrong?

ivanr2's picture
ivanr2 April 1, 2015 - 12:56pm

Very interesting article I think it could be possibly but not in our life time. The pollution could be a major cause. People should focus on ways to help the other and not destroy it, Iam I wrong?

isaacg4's picture
isaacg4 April 9, 2015 - 1:21pm
I agree that it is a possibility. I also agree that it wont happen in our life time. And the pollution probably has a big role in this problem.
cesarm's picture
cesarm April 1, 2015 - 12:11pm
This could be bad for use because of global warning this might cause and over flow of water which might be enough to create a over flow and flood parts of islands and states.
erikr's picture
erikr April 1, 2015 - 12:09pm

I got to say that this is scary how it's melting and causing and ice age I wonder how bad it well be

myrad's picture
myrad April 1, 2015 - 12:08pm

That is very terrifying, that all the polar ice melting can cause an ice age. What if there actually was another ice age?

nyahc's picture
nyahc April 1, 2015 - 9:17am

This article is very interesting on how polar ice melting might cause another ice age. How will we survive the thrilling cold temperatures and live? This is the big question what will happen to mankind if we do go though another ice age?

charlesr2's picture
charlesr2 April 9, 2015 - 1:19pm
I agree with you that this article is very interesting. I also wonder what will happen to us if we do indeed go into another ice age. Will we survive or not?
laramieb's picture
laramieb April 1, 2015 - 1:08pm

That's a very good question Nyah, how will we survive something like this if it were to happen. We may never know if we'll survive this upcoming Ice Age. For all we know this could be the extinction of mankind coming upon us.

nicholasl's picture
nicholasl April 1, 2015 - 12:59pm

This is kina like what I said. If the sea levels rise at 4 inches per year, what will happen to mankind if this ice age happens?

cesarm's picture
cesarm April 1, 2015 - 12:13pm
I feel that some parts of the earth wont be affected as greatly as other parts of we go through another ice age, but its still horrendous how that could be a possibility.
meganf4's picture
meganf4 April 1, 2015 - 9:17am

I think this could be a serious issue to our environment. I think that the first picture is pretty fascinating. I'm worried if the flow will change or not.

breannap3's picture
breannap3 April 9, 2015 - 8:48am
I think it will be a while before it happens so we have time to prepare for it. But when it does happen we will probably struggle and have issues due to the temperature.
myrad's picture
myrad April 1, 2015 - 12:10pm
I agree, this could really damage our environment, and lead to something dangerous. All the ice might just cause another ice age!
arorac's picture
arorac April 1, 2015 - 9:14am

I think that this is a very cool discovery but I also think that it is very scary. The world is changing very fast and global warming is really affecting the world in a negative way. What will happen if this continues?

noahh2's picture
noahh2 April 1, 2015 - 8:23am

This is a big issue among the worlds problems an ice age is a really bad thing that could wipe out all of man kind and the animal kingdom.

elizabethv2's picture
elizabethv2 April 1, 2015 - 8:18am

I find this funny because the Earth is warming up but it may cause another ice age. You would think that if it warms up we wouldn't have ice, but no! It's the opposite! Do you notice that?

domanich's picture
domanich April 1, 2015 - 8:17am

this is a cool article but it is also a little bit scary I mean what if we do go into an ice age what will happen to life, would we go into anarchy and have to all fend for our self? Or will we all just die?

jordanl5's picture
jordanl5 April 1, 2015 - 8:17am

I think that it is dangerous with these ice masses and the weather. The bad part now is you don't have a clue really how much damage these ice masses can do to you or other things.

erikr's picture
erikr April 1, 2015 - 12:10pm
I think so too but I wonder more about the ice age and how cold its going to get
sidneem's picture
sidneem April 1, 2015 - 8:13am

I think that this is very dangerous and serious. When the sea level rises then it will destroy the land and what is one it.

brandonh2's picture
brandonh2 April 1, 2015 - 8:13am

These are cool but like Kendrick said they will damage the weather.

darlah's picture
darlah April 1, 2015 - 7:31am

I think that its eventually gonna flood and wipe out the area if it keeps happening. Do you think its the global warming?

jacobk3's picture
jacobk3 April 1, 2015 - 7:30am

If the ice melts then it would probably flood the grounds where animals live.

kimberlys's picture
kimberlys March 31, 2015 - 1:58pm

This could be a very serious issue. The world is already concerned about the so called, "Global Warming" which is actually just the results of the heating and cooling of the earth which, makes up our seasons. Rising sea levels will not only reduce land but, destroy what is already on it. What do you guys think should be done?

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