The Gulf Stream

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climat ocean courants effets gulf stream

What if the Gulf Stream stopped ? If this hot marine current that follows Europe’s Atlantic slows down, will it cool downl Europe ?

The planet’s main marine currents, like El Nino in the Pacific or the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic contribute to water and heat exchanges on a global level. These are significant : the Gulf Stream’s rate of flow which is made up of several currents exceeds 10 million metres cube of water per second. It sometimes slows down and has even stopped several times during the history of our planet – the last time was about 8000 years ago. Today, the Arctic’s melting ice is releasing cold freshwater that is interfering with the current. The latter is controlled by differences in temperature and density. The freshwater could slow it down, make it move South and even stop it – but nothing is certain.

The Gulf Stream contributes to Europe’s mild winters. But how? It was believed that it was the reason for which in winter, London’s temperatures are 15°C higher than those in Newfoundland which is on the same latitude, but on the other side of the Atlantic. It seems that it only has a minor role: by blowing warm air onto the European coasts, winds from the West make their climate milder. Thus, even the slightest cooling caused by the Gulf Stream stopping would not compensate the global warming directly linked to the increase in the greenhouse effect. Thus, no glaciation is expected in Europe in centuries to come.

However, other consequences could pose a threat : the disappearance of the current would indeed affect the flow of nutrients in the ocean and the life of ecosystems. It could also have an impact on oceans’ absorption of carbon. This would in turn affect the amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere. These are only examples because one thing is for sure: oceans and the atmosphere are inextricably linked but their relationship is still misunderstood.


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