Climate change could shut down a crucial ocean system: Study

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Human-driven climate change is threatening a critical current system that plays a key role in transporting warmer and cooler waters throughout the Atlantic which could have dire impacts on world temperatures and critical ecosystems, a new scientific study has found.

A new study suggests that the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), a section of the Gulf Stream, transports warm water from the tropics northward and cold water from the North Atlantic to the south, is slowing down, and bringing less warm water to the Northern Atlantic ecosystems.

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This natural redistribution of heat has long worked to stabilize regional climate and weather conditions; however scientists have been warning for some that the system is slowing down.

In 2019, a report by the United Nations found while the current is “very likely” to weaken this century, a total breakdown was unlikely.

But the new study, published Thursday in the journal Nature Climate Change and authored by Niklas Boer, a researcher at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, indicates the situation could be far direr than previously thought.

“The current changes may be tied to “an almost complete loss of stability of the AMOC over the course of the last century,” said Boer, in the study.

“The findings support the assessment that the AMOC decline is not just a fluctuation or a linear response to increasing temperatures but likely means the approaching of a critical threshold beyond which the circulation system could collapse.”

Should the AMOC continue to stop delivering warm waters up north, it would lead to severe repercussions to Earth’s other critical ecosystems, potentially impacting the Amazon rainforest, monsoon seasons for various continents, and the Antarctic ice sheet.

“The mere possibility that the AMOC tipping point is close should be motivation enough for us to take countermeasures,” Levke Caesar, a climate physicist at Ireland’s Maynooth University, told The Washington Post. “The consequences of a collapse would likely be far-reaching.”

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