A crucial system of ocean currents, known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Current (AMOC), is on the verge of collapse, posing catastrophic implications for global weather patterns and affecting every person on the planet, according to a recent study published in the journal Nature. The AMOC, which includes the renowned Gulf Stream, functions as a colossal global conveyor belt, transporting warm water from the tropics to the North Atlantic, where it cools, becomes saltier, and sinks deep into the ocean before spreading southwards.
Researchers warn that if the world continues to emit planet-heating pollution, the AMOC could potentially collapse by the middle of the century, with a worst-case scenario as early as 2025. This collapse would lead to extreme winters, rising sea levels impacting parts of Europe and the US, and shifting monsoon patterns in the tropics.
The study attributes the AMOC’s vulnerability to the ongoing climate crisis, which causes ocean warming and ice melting, resulting in increased freshwater flowing into the ocean. This reduces water density, making it less capable of sinking and disrupting the conveyor belt mechanism. The AMOC has previously experienced shutdowns, with historical evidence showing that over 12,000 years ago, rapid glacier melt led to significant temperature fluctuations in the Northern Hemisphere.
Peter de Menocal, president of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, emphasizes the gravity of the situation, stating that the potential collapse of the AMOC would impact every person on the planet. While previous predictions suggested a weakening over the century, this new study, using a vast dataset dating back to 1870, indicates a much more alarming and imminent threat. Scientists identified “early warning signals” of critical changes in the AMOC, leading to a prediction that it could shut down between 2025 and 2095, with the most likely timeframe falling between 2039 and 2070.
Experts stress the urgent need to take fast and effective measures to reduce planet-heating pollution and mitigate the impending crisis. They underscore that the stakes have never been higher, and the window of time to address the issue is rapidly closing. As the world grapples with the consequences of climate change, scientists and policymakers must prioritize concerted efforts to safeguard the stability of this vital ocean current system and protect the delicate balance of our global climate.