North atlantic current

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North Atlantic Current

Planet Earth is made up of a complex web of systems that create and generate the various climates in which we live. These systems have molded and shaped the planet for over a billion years. During the past century, however, humans have been readily accused of disrupting these systems which may cause drastic climatic shifts in the not so distant future. This issue has raised many questions that revolve around the same basic principle. Is our planet heading towards a drastic climate shift due to human intervention or natural tendencies of Earth?

Of all of the systems that mold and shape the planet, one of the most important of these systems are oceanic currents. Ocean currents are possibly the most pivotal factor in determining weather systems and temperature control on Earth. Over the past two decades, extensive research has been conducted about one major oceanic current, namely the North Atlantic Current. Recent developments indicate that the current may be slowing which may lead to eventual climatic shifts across the globe.[1]

The North Atlantic Current is mostly believed to be the ending point of the Gulf Stream. It is responsible for the transportation of tropical waters northward to the higher latitudes. This system keeps much of Europe from entering another Ice Age. The current begins its northward and eastward journey between the Grand Banks and the Mid Atlantic Ridge. This is the general location from which the Gulf Stream begins to branch out in a web like fashion. According to NOAA satellite images, the current is proposed to originate around 47 degrees north and 41 degrees west.[2] From this point, the current generally continues toward the northwestern corner of Europe as it bypasses Greenland and Iceland.

The basic function of not only the North Atlantic current but the entire conveyor belt that is the North Atlantic Oscillation is to determine the climates of the waters from which it traverses and the continents that it bypasses.[3] This conveyor greatly influences the intensity of storm systems, their respective tracks, and the general climatic conditions over time for a particular area. The North Atlantic Current, therefore, is the main source of thermal moderation for the European continent and the North Atlantic due to its source region in the lower latitudes.

Recent developments about the status of the North Atlantic Current have raised many eyebrows in the world of marine and environmental science. One bit of research conducted by a physical oceanographer named Harry Bryden caught my attention in particular. Bryden who works for the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, U.K., worked extensively on a project which contained five surveys that spanned the Atlantic Ocean from 1957 through 2004. His research showed some very astounding findings.

The surveys that were conducted measured ocean temperatures and salinity levels at various depths of the ocean. Findings from the surveys indicate that although there was very little change in the current up to 1992, the current has slowed up to 30% since then. According to the study by Bryden and his team, less warm water is making its way as far to the north as was the case in the early 1990's and before. These findings do indicate a potential shift in the behavior of the North Atlantic Current, but some climate modelers such as Richard Wood from the Hadley Center for Climate Prediction and Research believe that more time and research needs to take place before any real conclusions are drawn about the status of the current.[4]

With the results that Bryden and his team conveyed, there are some computer models that put a worse case scenario into life. First, it must be noted that the North Atlantic Current is not forecasted to shut down at least until the end of this century if at all. Even then, sea levels would generally rise one meter or less in most parts of the northern hemisphere according to the models. The most significant information would be the average air temperatures over Europe. Air temperatures could drop on an average of five to ten degrees Celsius if the current shut down completely. This would also affect Canada and the United States as well. The thermal equator would shift southward, and the southern hemisphere would actually warm slightly as the northern hemisphere gets somewhat colder. The Day after Tomorrow situation will not occur in any scenario. The shocking footage of the movie is only real in Hollywood.[5]

Based on the research that I have looked into, I believe that there is a definite slowing trend of the North Atlantic Current. Although a slowing trend is occurring, I am not entirely sure if this is simply a natural trend that Earth possesses or if it is a byproduct of global warming or global climate change. I do believe, however, that humans have been abusing this planet in a way that does not bode well for the future of the planet as a whole. It is only natural that the climate will change as a result of putting so much strain on Earth's systems.

The conclusion that I draw from the research is that only time will tell whether or not the recent behavior of the North Atlantic Current will change the climate on a global scale. I believe that more data needs to be gathered before any conclusions are made openly public. The issue of global climate change is still new enough to not have an extremely deep knowledge base. With that in mind, I conclude that it will take several more decades of studies on the North Atlantic Current and other global systems before anyone can know for sure what the planet's climate will do next. The research gathered here indicates that the North Atlantic Current is a pivotal player in the climate of the northern hemisphere especially. It has recently slowed, but it is unknown whether or not it is simply a trend of the current or signs of a climate shift. Until more data is gathered, my stance on the issue will remain the same for the time being.

  1. NASA, "Satellites Record Weakening of North Atlantic Current,"
  2. CIMAS "The North Atlantic Current,"
  3. Hurrel, James W. and Deser, Clara, "North Atlantic Climate Variability: The Role of the North Atlantic Oscillation," Journal of Marine Systems Vol.78, no.1 (Aug.2009),
  4. Kerr, Richard A., "Ocean "Radiator" May Be Slowing Down." Science Now p.1-2 (11/30/2005),
  5. Battersby, Stephen, "Deep Trouble," New Scientist Vol.189, no.2547, p.42-46 (4/15/2006),