The circulation system of warm and cold water in the Atlantic Ocean has been reduced by 15%. Scientists explore the causes of this Atlantic Gulf Stream weakening can bring possible consequences for marine ecosystems and can even influence the climate of some parts of the world.
The Gulf Stream has become much slower over the last 150 years and now is at its weakest point in 1,000 years
According to a study published in the journal Nature, the flow has been reduced by 15%.
This water current works as a conveyor belt that begins its journey in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea, where warm waters go to the north and become colder until reaching Western Europe, where they meet the cold waters of the Barents Sea and Greenland.
In this way, a cycle is generated in which warm, less dense and lighter waters travel in the Atlantic Ocean to the north, while the cold, denser and heavier waters travel in the depths to the south.
This constant flow forms the so-called South Atlantic Return Circulation, which is essential to regulate the climate on the planet because it redistributes heat and influences carbon cycles.
What scientists have discovered is that this cycle has slowed down, possibly, because the ice thaw in the Arctic and Nordic seas is adding more fresh water to the cycle.
This water, as it has no salt, is less dense, so it does not go so easily to the bottom and does not circulate to the south.
The consequences of the Gulf Stream slow-down
When the Gulf Stream speed slows down is disturbing some deep-sea marine ecosystems or affecting temperature-sensitive species, such as corals or cod.
Another effect could be that lower temperatures occur in northwestern Europe.
“The changes we are seeing in the deep currents of the Atlantic could have great effects on ocean ecosystems,” said Murray Roberts, a marine biologist at the University of Edinburgh.
The Atlantic Ocean’s depths contain some of the oldest and most spectacular coral reefs and these delicate ecosystems depend on ocean currents to obtain their food and disperse their offspring.
Another study, also published this week in the journal Nature, shows similar results on the weakening of the Gulf Stream.