The Gulf Stream is dramatically slowing down due to climate change, study suggests

Written on 03/06/2021

By Ciarán Mather

One of our planet's largest climate-regulating ocean currents, The Gulf Stream, is now running at its slowest rate in around 1,600 years.

That's according to a study by a science team compiled of experts from Ireland, the UK and Germany, with the main culprit being human-induced climate change.

The researchers compiled data reaching back many hundreds of years to reconstruct the Gulf Stream’s flow history, finding that it is nowhere near as strong as it was in the distant past.

Stefan Rahmstorf, lead author of the study, said in a statement: 'The Gulf Stream System works like a giant conveyor belt, carrying warm surface water from the equator up north, and sending cold, low-salinity deep water back down south.' 

'It moves nearly 20 million cubic meters of water per second, almost a hundred times the Amazon flow.'

This is a worrying development as the Gulf Stream could pass a critical 'tipping point' by the year 2100.

Levke Caesar, a climatologist at Maynooth University in Ireland and co-lead author of the study, told LiveScience: 'If the Gulf Stream crosses its tipping point, it will continue to weaken even if we have managed to stop global warming.' 

'Afterwards, it will slow down by a lot, coming close to a complete shutdown of the circulation.'

If this comes to pass, then it could lead to an increase in storms and heatwaves across both the east coast of the US and Europe, including Ireland. 

The worrying news echoes another warning from scientists about a colossal iceberg, estimated to be the size of Los Angeles, which recently broke off Antarctica. 

The full results of the study can be viewed on Nature Geoscience.

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