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Project of the Month: An urgent warning as a vital ocean current system appears to show signs of collapsing

A new study published in ‘Nature Climate Change’ and supported by the EU-funded TiPES project has highlighted how the Atlantic current system – of which the Gulf Stream is a part – appears to be showing clear signs of instability and potential collapse. If this happened, it would have a major cooling effect on Europe’s climate.

Climate Change and Environment

The study was led by Niklas Boers of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) which is a member of the TiPES (Tipping Points in the Earth System) consortium. It found, through a detailed survey of contemporary observations and early warning signals (such as the salinity patterns of ocean waters), that the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), the Atlantic current system, may have been gradually losing its stability over the course of the last century. This is both worrying and surprising. Worrying because the AMOC is not only responsible for the relatively mild temperatures in Europe, it also influences weather systems worldwide. If the AMOC were to collapse, which has so far not been considered likely under the current levels of global warming (hence the surprising aspect of the study results), this would have severe consequences on global and especially European weather and climate. There would be increased cooling in the northern hemisphere, sea-level rise in the Atlantic, an overall fall in precipitation over Europe and North America, and further afield it could even disrupt the annual tropical monsoon season. Previously, climate scientists hadn’t forecast a possible collapse of the AMOC system until at least 2100. This new and very important study may indicate that that forecast may now need to be revised. For more information, please see the original article in ‘Nature Climate Change’. “The loss of dynamical stability would imply that the AMOC has approached its critical threshold.” - Niklas Boers, study author and member of the TiPES project If you are interested in having your project featured in ‘Project of the Month’ in an upcoming issue, please send us an email to editorial@cordis.europa.eu and tell us why!

Keywords

TiPES, AMOC, Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, Gulf Stream, climate change

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