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While many aspects of the movie are unrealistic, oceanographers are concerned about the long-term stability of the Atlantic Ocean circulation, and previous studies show that it has slowed dramatically in the past decade. New research from the University of Washington and the Ocean University of China finds the slowdown is not caused by global warming but is part of regular, decades-long cycle that will affect temperatures in coming decades.
The paper was published July 19 in the journal Nature.
Climate - Scientists - Atlantic - Circulation - Warming
"Climate scientists have expected the Atlantic overturning circulation to decline long-term under global warming, but we only have direct measurements of its strength since April 2004. And the decline measured since then is 10 times larger than expected," said corresponding author Ka-Kit Tung, a UW professor of applied mathematics with an adjunct appointment in atmospheric sciences.
"Many have focused on the fact that it's declining very rapidly, and that if the trend continues it will go past a tipping point, bringing a catastrophe such as an ice age. It turns out that none of that is going to happen in the near future. The fast response may instead be part of a natural cycle and there are signs that the decline is already ending."
Results - Implications - Surface - Warming - Speed
The results have implications for surface warming. The current's speed determines how much surface heat gets transferred to the deeper ocean, and a quicker circulation would send more heat to the deep Atlantic. If the current slows down, then it will store less heat, and Earth will be likely to see air temperatures rise more quickly than the rate since 2000.
"The global climate models can project what's going to happen long-term if carbon dioxide increases by a certain amount, but they currently lack the capability to predict surface warming in the next few decades, which requires a knowledge of how much...
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