The planet is on course to experience one of its warmest years on record, but scientists are baffled by a massive cold patch in the North Atlantic Ocean. The area, which lies just to the south of Greenland and Iceland, is showing some of the coldest temperatures ever recorded for the region. Researchers are calling this area the Atlantic blob. Its presence may be a sign of something very worrying taking place in the ocean.
It comes at a time large parts of the world are experiencing some of the hottest temperatures on record, raising fears the recent “pause” in global warming has come to an end. Researchers believe accelerated melting of the enormous ice sheet covering Greenland is dumping record amounts of cold fresh water into the ocean. Recent research has also shown that the system of ocean currents which includes the Gulf Stream, known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, may be slowing down at an alarming rate. It found the enormous current, which circulates warm water from the equator north and carries cold water from the Arctic south, has slowed by 15-20 per cent over the past century. These factors combined may be leading to abnormally cold temperatures in the northern part of the ocean.
The latest data released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration showed this is occurring at a time when global temeratures are 1.51°F (0.84°C) above average. August itself has been one of the warmest on record.
In a statement the NOAA said, “Near record to record warmth engulfed much of the global land and ocean surface throughout the first eight months of 2015, resulting in the highest January–August period on record at 0.84°C (1.51°F) above the 20th century average. This value exceeded the previous record set in 2010 by 0.10°C (0.18°F). The average temperature for South America and Asia was the highest since 1910, with Europe and Africa having a top five warm year-to-date. Near-average to much-cooler-than-average conditions was present across eastern North America, northern parts of the Atlantic Ocean and parts of the southern oceans.”
Climate scientists are now working to understand the cause of the Atlantic blob and what its impact will be. Dr. Michael Mann, a climatologist and director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, was part of the team that showed the current circulation in the Atlantic Ocean has been slowing down at a rate not seen in the past 1,000 years. He said, “We now appear to be witnessing before our very eyes in the form of an anomalous blob of cold water in the sub-polar North Atlantic.”
Professor Stefan Rahmstorf, an oceans physicist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, added that if the addition of cold fresh water from the Greenland ice sheet contributed to the slow down of the Gulf Stream system the effects could be “substantial.” He said, “Disturbing the circulation will likely have a negative effect on the ocean ecosystem, and thereby fisheries and the associated livelihoods of many people in coastal areas. A slowdown also adds to the regional sea-level rise affecting cities like New York and Boston. Finally, temperature changes in that region can also influence weather systems on both sides of the Atlantic, in North America as well as Europe.”
This news is very eerily reminiscent of the 2004 movie, The Day After Tomorrow, which documents an abrupt climate change having catastrophic consequences for the entire planet. In the movie, the abrupt climate change is triggered by changes to ocean currents. Meltwater inflow brings the North Atlantic Current to a halt, causing severe cooling. This happens in a matter of days. Subsequently. a super-storm is triggered by the oceanic shutdown. In the film a UN climate conference in Delhi is shown where character Jack Hall gives a talk about the possible risk of a shut-down of the North Atlantic Current. Professor Stefan Rahmstorf gave a very similar talk at a UN conference in Buenos Aires in 1998 – he even showed the same diagram. In the film talk, character Jack Hall states that a shutdown might occur in a hundred years, or a thousand, or not at all. Many real climatologists have said the same thing.