GEORGE TOWN, Cayman Islands (CNS) — Like many other low-lying countries around the world, the islands of the Caribbean are already on the front line when it comes to the threat of sea-level rise posed by climate change. But now scientists are raising concerns about another potential problem regarding sea levels on this side of the Atlantic caused by a dramatic slowing of the Gulf Stream.
In the latest scientific research, experts warn that arctic melting is behind the decrease in the important climate phenomenon’s movement, which is expected to fuel more erratic weather around the world as well as more coastal erosion.
Research recently published in the science journal, Nature, by the University College London (UCL) and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) has found that the Atlantic Gulf Stream is at its weakest in more than 1,600 years. The research shows that the Gulf Stream has reduced in strength by around 15% since 1950, pointing to the role of human-made greenhouse gas emissions as the primary cause.
“The evidence we’re now able to provide is the most robust to date,” said Professor Stefan Rahmstorf from the Potsdam Institute, who conceived the study. “We’ve analysed all the available sea surface temperature datasets, comprising data from the late 19th century until the present.”
Peter Spooner, one of the authors from UCL, writing about the research online, said the weakening of the system may have started naturally but is probably being fuelled by climate change related to greenhouse gas emissions.
“This circulation is a key player in the Earth’s climate system and a large or abrupt slowdown could have global repercussions. It could cause sea levels on the US east coast to rise, alter European weather patterns or rain patterns more globally, and hurt marine wildlife,” Spooner said, adding that the speed of the change in the research results have come as a surprise to many, including him.
Known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), it is described by scientists as a giant conveyor belt of water. It transports warm, salty water to the north Atlantic, where it gets very cold and sinks. Once in the deep ocean the water flows back southwards and then all around the world’s oceans.
Scientists believe that severe weather events will increase as a result of the slowing of the important weather system, causing colder winters in the north, drought in the tropics, stronger storms and heatwaves, as well as coastal flooding around the world.
Republished with permission of Cayman News Service