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Scientists have issued a dire warning in a groundbreaking study published in Nature on Tuesday. It’s about the future of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Current (AMOC), a critical component of the Gulf Stream. As per the study, the Gulf Stream collapse is predicted by 2050.
The AMOC is a massive global conveyor belt transporting warm waters from the tropics toward the North Atlantic. The water cools, becomes saltier, and sinks deep into the ocean before circulating southwards.
This intricate system plays a pivotal role in regulating global weather patterns and has far-reaching consequences for climate stability. A potential collapse would lead to extreme winters and rising sea levels impacting regions in Europe and the US, along with a significant shift in the monsoon patterns across the tropics.
Scientists have been sounding the alarm for years, highlighting the AMOC’s vulnerability as the consequences of climate change continue to escalate. Rising ocean temperatures and melting ice are contributing factors, increasing the influx of freshwater into the ocean and reducing its density. When the water becomes too fresh, too warm, or both, the conveyor belt mechanism halts, leading to potentially disastrous outcomes.
The study reveals historical evidence of a previous AMOC shutdown over 12,000 years ago due to rapid glacier melting, which caused extreme temperature fluctuations of 10 to 15 degrees Celsius within a decade. Experts stress that a modern-day shutdown would have catastrophic implications on a global scale.
Previously, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had estimated that the AMOC would weaken over this century but deemed its total collapse before 2100 unlikely. However, the recent study paints a much bleaker picture, raising serious concerns about the potential AMOC tipping point occurring much sooner.
To arrive at these conclusions, researchers analyzed a vast dataset spanning 150 years, ranging from 1870 to 2020. Examining sea surface temperatures in the North Atlantic south of Greenland identified “early warning signals” of critical AMOC changes. The study predicts, “with high confidence,” that the collapse could happen as early as 2025 but no later than 2095. According to the findings, the likeliest point of failure falls between 2039 and 2070.
The research findings have rattled the scientific community, with experts emphasizing the need for immediate action to combat climate change. Drastic measures to reduce planet-heating pollution are essential to slow global warming and counteract the melting in the Arctic.
“There is still large uncertainty where the tipping point of the AMOC is, but the new study adds to the evidence that it is much closer than we thought just a few years ago,“ warns Stefan Rahmstorf, a professor of physics of the oceans at the University of Potsdam in Germany.
“The key point of this study is that we don’t have much time at all to do this,” stresses Peter de Menocal, the president of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. “And the stakes just got higher.“
As the world grapples with the increasing climate crisis, the AMOC’s stability and the fate of the Gulf Stream stand as a testament to the urgent need for collective action. The Gulf Stream collapse predicted by 2050 is a stark reminder that the consequences of inaction are grave and that time is running out. As we approach the tipping point, humanity must rally together to address the causes of climate change and implement sustainable solutions to preserve the delicate balance of our planet’s climate system.