Gulf Stream slowdown? Est-ce que le Gulf Stream ralentit ?

There has been an overwhelming popular demand for us to weigh in on recent reports in the Times Britain faces big chill as ocean current slows and CNN Changes in Gulf Stream could chill Europe (note the interesting shift in geographical perspective!).

par Gavin Schmidt (traduit par Pierre Allemand)

Nous avons été submergés de demandes d’évaluation des rapports récents du Times

Britain faces big chill as ocean current slows” (la Grande Bretagne soumise à un refroidissement important en raison du ralentissement de courants océaniques) et de CNN “Changes in Gulf Stream could chill EuropeLes changement du Gulf Stream pourrait refroidir l’Europe), (notez l’intéressant glissement de perspective géographique !).


At the heart of the story was a statement at the recent EGU meeting by Peter Wadhams from Cambridge University, that convection in a normally active area of the Greenland Sea was much reduced last winter. Specifically, in an area where a dozen or so convective ‘chimneys’ form, only two small chimneys were seen. (Unfortunately, I can’t seem to be able to find a relevant abstract of Dr. Wadhams talk, and so I have to rely on the Times’ news reports for the specifics).

Convective chimneys in the seas bounded by Greenland, Iceland and Norway occur when intense cooling of the ocean, usually associated with a low-pressure system passing through, breaks down the normally stable ocean layers and causes the now colder, denser water to convect and mix down to a relatively deep layer. This area of the world is one of only a few places where the underlying ocean column is marginally stable enough that this process can occur in the open ocean and lead to convective chimneys going down 2000 to 3000 meters. The deep water masses formed in this way are then exported out of the area in deep currents that eventually make up “North Atlantic Deep Water” (which also contains contributions from the Labrador Sea and entrainment of other water masses). This process is part of what is called the ‘thermohaline’ or ‘overturning’ circulation and is associated with a significant amount of heat transport into the North Atlantic, which indeed keeps Britain and the rest of the North Atlantic region 3 to 6 degrees C warmer than they otherwise would be. The figure gives two model estimates for the impact of this circulation (Stocker, 2002).

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