The recent analysis of mooring observations and hydrographic data has revealed alarming trends in the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) in the North Atlantic. These findings shed light on the significant impact of human-induced environmental changes on our planet’s climate regulating system. The study, led by researchers at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric, and Earth Science, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory, underscores the urgent need for action to mitigate the effects of human activity on the world’s oceans.

Weakening of the Deep Water Limb

The research team utilized two decades of deep sea oceanographic data collected by observational mooring programs to assess the state of the AMOC deep water limb. Their analysis revealed that this crucial component of Earth’s global ocean currents has weakened by approximately 12% over the past twenty years. This weakening is linked to human-induced environmental changes around Antarctica, which have contributed to sea level rise in the North Atlantic. Despite the vast distances between these regions, the researchers emphasized that no corner of the world’s oceans remains unaffected by human activity.

The shrinking deep-ocean branch, known as the abyssal limb, is a key part of the AMOC. This limb consists of Antarctic bottom water, which forms from the cooling of seawater in the Southern Ocean during winter months. One of the primary mechanisms for the formation of this bottom water is brine rejection, where salt released during sea ice formation increases the density of the surrounding water. This dense water sinks to the ocean floor and spreads northward to fill the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans, forming a cold, dense water layer crucial for global ocean circulation.

The researchers observed a slowing down of the flow of Antarctic bottom water across 16°N latitude in the Atlantic during the 21st century. This slowdown has reduced the inflow of cold waters to higher latitudes, resulting in the warming of deep ocean waters. The increase in abyssal ocean heat content has contributed to local sea level rise due to thermal expansion of the water. The areas affected by this warming span thousands of miles in all directions, highlighting the far-reaching consequences of human-induced circulation changes on the ocean.

The study titled “Weakening of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation Abyssal Limb in the North Atlantic” underscores the need for continued monitoring and research to understand the complex interactions shaping our planet’s climate system. The collaboration of multiple oceanographic institutions worldwide has been instrumental in enabling this crucial analysis. As we strive to address the challenges posed by human-induced environmental changes, it is essential to prioritize sustainable practices and conservation efforts to safeguard the health of our oceans and planet for future generations.


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