New Ocean Circulation Experiment has Potential Big Climate Model Impact
New research by Duke University, in conjunction with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is casting doubt on long-held theories of North Atlantic Ocean circulation patterns. This research, supported by the National Science Foundation is important since oceanic circulation is one of the key factors in current atmospheric circulation models, and therefore critical starting points for climate modeling.
A 50-year-old model of ocean currents had shown this southbound subsurface flow of cold water forming a continuous loop with the familiar northbound flow of warm water on the surface, called the Gulf Stream.
"Everybody always thought this deep flow operated like a conveyor belt, but what we are saying is that concept doesn't hold anymore," said Duke oceanographer Susan Lozier. "So it's going to be more difficult to measure these climate change signals in the deep ocean."
And since cold Labrador seawater is thought to influence and perhaps moderate human-caused climate change, this finding may affect the work of global warming forecasters.
"To learn more about how the cold deep waters spread, we will need to make more measurements in the deep ocean interior, not just close to the coast where we previously thought the cold water was confined," said Woods Hole's Amy Bower.
Lozier, a professor of physical oceanography at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment and Bower, a senior scientist in the department of physical oceanography at the Woods Hole Institution, are co-principal authors of a report on the findings to be published in the May 14 issue of the research journal Nature.