Loss of Arctic sea ice impacting Atlantic Ocean water circulation system

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — Scientists at Yale University and the University of Southampton say the ongoing Arctic ice loss can play an active role in altering one of the planet’s largest water circulation systems: The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC).

The AMOC can be characterized as the northbound flow of warmer water towards the surface and the southbound flow of colder water in the deeper layers of the Atlantic Ocean.

AMOC plays a major role in regional and global climate, affecting the Atlantic rim countries – particularly those in Europe – and far beyond. It was featured in the movie, “The Day After Tomorrow.”

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“Conventional thinking has been that if ocean circulation weakens, reducing the transport of heat from low to high latitudes, then it should lead to sea ice growth. But we have found another, overlooked, mechanism by which sea ice actively affects AMOC on multi-decadal time scales,” said professor Alexey Fedorov, climate scientist at the Yale Department of Geology and Geophysics and co-author of a study detailing the findings in the journal Nature Climate Change.

The first author of the paper is Florian Sévellec, a former Yale postdoctoral researcher in Fedorov’s lab who is now an associate professor at the University of Southampton. Wei Liu, a Yale postdoctoral associate, is another co-author of the study.

“We’ve now found this new connection between sea ice and AMOC,” Liu said. “Sea ice loss is clearly important among the mechanisms that could potentially contribute to AMOC collapse.”

The researchers based their findings on a combination of comprehensive climate model simulations and novel computations of the sensitivity of ocean circulation to fluctuations in temperature and salinity at the ocean’s surface over time.

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