Gulf Stream System

July 26, 2023


A new study has sounded the alarm, revealing that the Gulf Stream system, known as Amoc (Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation), could face collapse as early as 2025. Amoc plays a vital role in the Earth’s climate system, carrying warm ocean water northwards and driving the Atlantic’s currents.

Understanding Amoc and Its Vulnerability Amoc refers to the crucial ocean currents that transport warm water towards the pole, where it cools and sinks, affecting the entire Atlantic’s circulation. Researchers have noted that Amoc is currently at its weakest in 1,600 years, mainly due to global heating. The weakening of these currents raises concerns about a tipping point, leading to potential collapse.

The Estimated Timescale for Amoc’s Collapse The study estimates a critical timescale for the collapse of Amoc, ranging from 2025 to 2095. The central estimate points to a dire scenario by 2050, should global carbon emissions continue unabated. During previous collapses, temperature fluctuations of approximately 10 degrees Celsius were observed over a span of a few decades, but it is essential to note that these occurrences took place during ice ages.

Consequences of Amoc’s Collapse The potential collapse of Amoc carries devastating implications for the global climate. Disruptions in rainfall patterns are likely to occur in regions like India, South America, and West Africa, impacting billions of people who depend on these rains for their food supply. Moreover, Europe would experience increased storms and colder temperatures, while the eastern coast of North America faces rising sea levels. The Amazon rainforest and Antarctic ice sheets would also face heightened threats.

The Climate Crisis and Dangerous Tipping Points Amoc’s potential collapse adds to the list of dangerous tipping points that have been triggered by global heating. Research in 2022 indicated that five tipping points, including the shutdown of Amoc, the collapse of Greenland’s ice cap, and abrupt melting of carbon-rich permafrost, may already have been passed.

Estimating the Tipping Point To estimate the potential tipping point, researchers used sea surface temperature data dating back to 1870. This data was mapped onto the path of systems approaching a “saddle-node bifurcation,” providing insights into the likelihood of Amoc’s collapse.

IPCC’s Assessment The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has previously assessed Amoc’s risk of collapse and concluded that it would not occur this century. However, researchers caution that these models may be conservative and call for further investigation.  

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