20th Oct 2019

Cambridge scientist warns of cooler European weather

  • The shift is linked to global warming, according to the scientist, who also predicts the complete meltdown or Arctic Ice as early as 2020 and no later than 2080 (Photo:

A Cambridge University scientist has detected the first real signs of a slow down in the warm Atlantic current known as the Gulf Stream.

Such a development could lead to temperatures plunging in some European countries as the Stream, which originates in the Gulf of Mexico and follows the eastern coastlines of the US and Canada, then bends towards north-western Europe.

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The UK and Ireland are especially vulnerable to changes in the current, where it maintains average temperatures at 5ºC to 8ºC higher than they would otherwise be.

But Cambridge University's Peter Wadhams has discovered that one of the "engines" of the Gulf Stream – the cold current of the Greenland Sea - is currently running below 25 per cent of its original strength, according to the Sunday Times.

He made the revelations at a meeting of the European Geosciences Union in Vienna in April, although the scientific community has been predicting the development for years.

Dr Wadhams carried out his study with the help of UK Royal Navy submarines, which took measurements under the Arctic ice cap in Greenland.

The shift is linked to global warming, according to the scientist, who also predicts a complete meltdown of Arctic ice by 2020 at the earliest but no later than 2080.

"Until recently we would find giant ‘chimneys’ in the sea where columns of cold, dense water were sinking from the surface to the seabed 3,000 m below, but now they have almost disappeared", he is quoted as saying by the Sunday Times.

"As the water sank it was replaced by warm water flowing in from the south, which kept the circulation going. If that mechanism is slowing, it will mean less heat reaching Europe".

Dr Wadhams also detected a 46 per cent drop in North Polar ice thickness compared with numbers from the 1980s, after using sonar technology to screen the ice from below during submarine missions under the ice.

Focusing on the Odden ice shelf, an ice layer that should grow out into the Greenland Sea every winter and recede in summer, he detected that the shelf has not fully completed its historic movement since 1997.

"In the past we could see nine to 12 giant columns forming under the shelf each year. In our latest cruise, we found only two and they were so weak that the sinking water could not reach the seabed", he noted.

It is difficult to be precise about the exact effect of such changes on the climate. However, Mr Wadhams suggests it could be extreme.

"One of the frightening things in the film The Day After Tomorrow showed how the circulation in the Atlantic Ocean is upset because the sinking of cold water in the north Atlantic suddenly stops," he said.

"The sinking is stopping, albeit much more slowly than in the film — over years rather than a few days. If it continues, the effect will be to cool the climate of northern Europe", said the scientist.

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