To evaluate the risk of this form of climate change occurring, researchers from the universities of Southampton and Bordeaux developed a new algorithm to analyse 40 climate models, which were originally examined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The researchers’ findings are published in the journal Nature Communications.
Current climate models all foresee a slowing of the Meridional Overturning Circulation (MOC) – the phenomenon behind the familiar Gulf Stream, which carries warm water from Florida to European shores. Slowing of MOC could lead to a dramatic, unprecedented disruption and cooling of the climate system.
In 2013, drawing on 40 climate change projections, the IPCC judged that this slowdown would occur gradually, over a long period of time and that fast cooling of the North Atlantic during this century was unlikely. The Southampton and Bordeaux project team (as part of the EU EMBRACE project), have re-examined these projections by focusing on a critical spot in the northwest North Atlantic, the Labrador Sea – which is host to a convection system (a circular motion of warm and cool water), which feeds into the ocean-wide MOC.
In the near future these results can be tested against real data from the Overturning in the Subpolar North Atlantic Program (OSNAP), whose teams will be anchoring scientific instruments within the subpolar gyre (an area of cyclonic ocean circulation).
Professor Sybren Drijfhout