Atlantic Ocean Circulation Nearing 'Devastating' Tipping Point, Study Finds

The circulation of the Atlantic Ocean is heading towards a tipping point that is “bad news for the climate system and humanity”, a study has found.


Study Reveals Alarming State of Atlantic Ocean Circulation

A recent study has revealed that the circulation of the Atlantic Ocean, known as the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (Amoc), is approaching a tipping point that could have dire consequences for the global climate system and humanity. The researchers used computer models and past data to develop an indicator for the breakdown of Amoc, which is responsible for distributing energy and regulating the impact of human-caused global heating. They found that Amoc is already on track towards an abrupt shift that has not occurred in over 10,000 years. Although the exact timeline of this collapse remains uncertain, the speed at which it will occur is alarming.

The erosion of Amoc is primarily caused by the melting of Greenland's glaciers and Arctic ice sheets, leading to an influx of freshwater into the ocean. This disrupts the sinking of saltier, warmer water from the south. Previous research has shown that Amoc has declined by 15% since 1950 and is currently in its weakest state in over a millennium. While there has been debate about the severity of the impending collapse, the new study provides evidence that a slow decline can lead to a sudden collapse in less than a century.

Consequences of Amoc Collapse

The collapse of Amoc would have far-reaching consequences for the world. Sea levels in the Atlantic would rise by a metre in certain regions, posing a threat to coastal cities. The Amazon rainforest would experience a reversal in wet and dry seasons, potentially pushing it beyond its tipping point. Temperatures worldwide would become more erratic, with the southern hemisphere becoming warmer and Europe cooling dramatically with reduced rainfall. These changes would occur ten times faster than current trends, making adaptation nearly impossible.

Lead author of the study, René van Westen of Utrecht University, expressed concern about the speed at which the tipping point could occur. While the exact timeframe is still uncertain, the irreversible changes will happen on timescales that greatly impact human societies. It is crucial for society to take climate change more seriously and address the impending collapse of Amoc.