There’s no question that the world's oceans are warming. With everything from news reports about the hot tub temperatures stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to the Persian Gulf and swollen glacial rivers in Alaska destroying homes, to data indicating a potential slowdown or collapse of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, or AMOC, our oceans are slowly starting to boil.
While scientists have warned about the ocean’s warming for years, new data indicates that the AMOC might collapse sooner than anyone had anticipated, which could significantly impact global climate change. While there’s a lot of debate about the latest data, one thing is clear: Climate change is happening faster than we thought, and the AMOC is slowing down.
AMOC stands for Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation. This term is frequently interchanged with a more friendly term and known as the Atlantic’s “Conveyor Belt.” The deep water current moves cooler water from the poles toward the equator and back with regularity.
The AMOC is the size of 8000 Mississippi Rivers and moves 15 million cubic meters of water per second. It keeps everything from weather systems and environmental climates within livable ranges and determines everything from crop production in Africa to sea level rise on the East Coast of the United States. It impacts everything from human and animal migration patterns to drought, flooding, and disease–all of which will impact everything from the global economy to the relative political stability of the world.
To put it in bodily terms, the AMOC is like the circulatory system. If it stops or changes dramatically, a whole lot of things go off the rails. Most scientists believe that the last time that the AMOC shut down was more than 14,500 years ago, during the transition out of the last ice age.
Late last week, Nature Communications published a paper that predicts that the AMOC could shut down completely as soon as 2025 and no later than 2095. That timeline is far from concrete, and there are a number of scientists who disagree with the findings.
Scientists around the world have only been monitoring the AMOC since 2004, which in global scientific terms isn’t terribly long. Yet in March of this year, the IPCC put out the first installment of the sixth assessment (AR6 WG1), which included in it a very strong scientific consensus for a slowdown and potential collapse within the next century.
According to the report, “There is medium confidence that the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation will not collapse abruptly before 2100, but if it were to occur, it would very likely cause abrupt shifts in regional weather patterns and large impacts on ecosystems and human activities.” The IPCC has predicted that the AMOC will slow, but they don’t believe that it's imminent, unlike the recent paper that was just published.
According to Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, if the AMOC collapses, the results could be catastrophic. “Cooling across large parts of the northern hemisphere, changes in tropical rainfall, and non-linear changes in sea-level rise in the North Atlantic Ocean,” are just a few of the overarching changes that the globe could expect. It’s important to note that such a significant shutdown would likely have implications that scientists can’t currently predict, as well.
Those who don’t believe that a catastrophic shutdown is imminent say that while the paper does use historical measures of ocean temperature, it does not offer up a reason as to why the AMOC might suddenly collapse.
Most scientists believe that the AMOC is, in fact, slowing and that global warming may have sped up some of that slowing by causing the ice caps to melt at a faster rate and mixing fresh water with salty sea water, changing the speed and direction of the AMOC in some ways. The bottom line, however, is that most climate scientists believe that we still need more information to determine just how close we are to the shutdown of the AMOC.
While the recent paper grabbed a significant number of headlines around the world, one thing is abundantly clear: To avoid potential catastrophe, the world needs to work together to reduce global warming as quickly as possible.
Here are three companies working in and around the ocean space to slow down the rising heat levels in our oceans.
Running Tide is a Maine-based company that is focused on a multi-pronged approach to improving the health of the world’s oceans. They do everything from crafting technology solutions that integrate engineered and biological systems to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, restore ecosystems, and secure food systems, to offer sensors that measure ocean metrics. They currently have three remote positions open, including one for an Ocean Research Scientist.
Verterra Energy harnesses the power of the watershed to generate zero-emissions energy. The Minnesota-based company currently has three openings in Saint Paul for engineering positions.
Nautlius Labsis a voyage management company that maximizes commercial returns of voyages in the current market and decarbonizes the journey. The India-based company has hubs in Singapore, New York, London and Paris and they’re currently hiring for nine different positions around the world.
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