According to some scientists, a frightening climate estimate based on greenhouse gas emissions forecasts that the Atlantic Ocean current would collapse around 2060 if nothing changes before then.

The warning was issued Tuesday in the scientific journal Nature Communications by researchers at the University of Copenhagen’s Niels Bohr Institute and Department of Mathematical Sciences about the vital ocean currents that distribute heat, cold, and precipitation between the tropics and the northern Atlantic region.

The ocean circulation, known as the Thermohaline Circulation or Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, was computed using data from the last 150 years of ocean temperature.

“We’ve made calculations that provide a more robust estimate of when a collapse of the Thermohaline Circulation is most likely to occur, something we couldn’t do before,” said Prof. Susanne Ditlevsen of UCPH’s Department of Mathematical Sciences.

Researchers calculated that if present emissions continue, the Atlantic Ocean circulation will likely shut down in 34 years, around 2057. As a result, the tropics would be warmer, with a significantly stormier North Atlantic region.

“Shutting down the AMOC can have very serious consequences for the Earth’s climate, for example, by changing how heat and precipitation are distributed globally,” stated Niels Bohr Institute Professor Peter Ditlevsen.

“While a cooling of Europe may appear less severe as the world as a whole warms and heat waves become more common,” Ditlevsen noted, “this shutdown will contribute to an increased warming of the tropics, where rising temperatures have already given rise to challenging living conditions.”

“Our findings highlight the critical importance of reducing global greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible.”

The findings contradict the last Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, which concluded that changes in ocean currents are “very unlikely” during this century.

When the last ice age ended, ocean circulation collapsed. Climate change was dramatic during such occurrences, with 10- to 15-degree shifts over a decade. Climate change is currently warming at a rate of 1.5 degrees Celsius per century.”


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