Scientists have found new evidence that the Atlantic Ocean’s circulation has slowed by about 15 percent since the middle of the last century. If it continues to slow, that could have profound consequences for Earth’s inhabitants.
Studies suggest it would mean much colder winters and hotter summers in Europe, changing rainfall patterns in the tropics, and warmer water building up along the U.S. coast that can fuel sea level rise and destructive storms. The changes in the North Atlantic could also intensify streams of icebergs into shipping lanes and coastal ice jams that hinder navigation.
There are already signs that the weakening is having an effect. In 2015, scientists traced the imminent collapse of the commercially important cod fishery in the region to rapidly warming water in the Gulf of Maine, which fits the pattern of slowing Atlantic circulation. Record-warm water off the East Coast that helped fuel 2011’s destructive Hurricane Irene, as well as Superstorm Sandy a year later, appears to fit that pattern, as well, according to NASA.
So what exactly is going on here?