Ocean mixing that drives climate found in surprise spot
One of the key drivers of the world’s climate is an area in the North Atlantic Ocean, where warmer and colder water mix and swirl.
When scientists went for their first close look at this critical underwater dynamo, they found they were looking in the wrong place by hundreds of miles.
Before the chaos
The consequences are not quite yet understood, but eventually it could change forecasts of one of the worst-case global warming scenarios still considered unlikely this century, in which the mixing stops and climate chaos ensues.
It’s called the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, and scientists describe it as a giant ocean conveyor belt that moves water from Greenland south to beyond the tip of Africa and into the Indian Ocean.
Warm, salty water near the surface moves north and mixes with cold, fresher water near Greenland. As that water cools and sinks it drives a slow circulation of the oceans that is critical to global climate, affecting the location of droughts and frequency of hurricanes. It also stores heat-trapping carbon dioxide deep in the ocean. The faster it moves, the more warm water gets sent into the depths to cool.
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