In August 2004, the Gulf Stream came to a halt for 10 days straight.
“We’d never seen anything like that before and we don’t understand it; we didn’t know it could happen,” said Harry Bryden, at the National Oceanography Centre, in Southampton, to a reporter from the British newspaper the Guardian.
Climate modellers have long predicted that one effect of global warming is a slowdown in the Gulf Stream, but a total halt was not thought possible; the Gulf Stream’s current is usually 60 times faster than that of the Amazon River.
The warm water the Gulf Stream brings to Europe’s shores from the tropics raises the temperature by as much as 10 degrees Celsius in some places.
Without it Europe would be much colder and drier
Still, even if this temporary halt is not an indication of what is to come, most scientists agree that even a slight weakening of the current over a few decades would have serious consequences.
When Bryden presented the findings to a recent conference in Birmingham on rapid climate change, he refused to say whether this was an indication that the current is stuttering to a halt.
“I want to know more before I say that,” he said.
However, this has caused a stir in countries of the North-Atlantic, spurring even more research on the North Atlantic and the effects of global warming upon the Gulf Stream.
Another recent study shows another, quite surprising result.
The North Sea’s temperature rose by three degrees in October.
“We are very worried about this,” said Scientist Tore Johannessen at the Marine Research Institute in Denmark to a reporter at the Danish newspaper Politiken.
These temperature changes can, and almost certainly will affect fish stocks and algae growth.
“A rise in temperature will be favourable to a few organisms in the ocean, among those the algae, and that’s something we fear more than anything else,” said Johannessen.
And researchers are doing what they can to stem these alarming changes.
In September, Iceland hosted a symposium on the effect of climate change on ocean currents in the North Atlantic.
At the conference, the current state of knowledge of currents, climate and ecosystems in the North Atlantic were assessed, and priority tasks identified.
Attendees heard of the thinning Greenland ice, and Leif Toudal Pedersen, a Danish professor of electromagnetic systems at the Technical University of Denmark, explained how satellites have allowed for a much closer and more precise inspection of the North Arctic ice over the last 30 years than has previously been possible.
It is clear that changes are occurring in the North Atlantic Ocean’s currents, which increase the likelihood of changes to the Gulf Stream, said Meric Srokosz, a British scientist who spoke at the conference.
These changes, said Srokosz, suggest that less heat is being brought by the Gulf Stream to the North, which could have dire consequences to all of Europe — regardless of whether the ocean gets warmer or colder.
Bryden’s study is the most detailed study yet of ocean flow in the Atlantic, according to the Guardian.
It has stunned climate researchers, its data suggesting that the flow rate of the Atlantic circulation has dropped drastically from 1957 to 1998.
If the current remained that weak, he predicted, it would lead to a one degree Celsius drop in Britain in the next decade, according to Bryden.
A complete shutdown would lead to a four degrees C to six degrees C cooling over 20 years, said he.
After his team’s findings, more studies were launched on the Gulf Stream, which hopefully, will, in the end, help prevent a serious slowdown, or even a total halt, of the Gulf Stream.