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A key Atlantic ocean circulation system regulating temperature is “on route to tipping”, a new study warns.

The European climate is greatly affected by the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC), and research by Dutch scientists indicates that it is already on track towards a sharp shift.

Ireland’s climate could become similar to Iceland, Fianna Fáil senator Thomas Byrne has warned.

As the paper by University of Utrecht scientists in the journal Science Advances explains,the AMOC is an ocean circulation system extending from the Tropics up to the Arctic Circle, which transports heat, salt and nutrients.

It can be affected by input of freshwater in the north Atlantic, and rapid melting of Greenland’s glaciers and Arctic ice sheets may already be slowing the course of the warm ocean water from the south.

The last collapse of AMOC is believed to have occurred over 10,000 years ago, and any repeat would have serious consequences for many parts of the globe.

The scientists fed in results of the first “tipping event” into a community earth system model which included the “large climate impacts” of a collapse.

“Using these results, we develop a physics-based and observable early warning signal of AMOC tipping,”they explain.

“Reanalysis products indicate that the present-day AMOC is on route to tipping,”they state.

“The collapse of AMOC – while it may not be something that happens in our lifetime – would have serious consequences for future Irish generations,”Senator Thomas Byrne said in the Senate.

It could result in Ireland’s climate changing to become similar to Iceland’s, which is something that will have profound implications,”he said, warning that Ireland needed to prepare for such an event.

The study by Dr René van Westen, Michael Kliphuis and Henk A. Dijkstra of the Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research at Utrecht University is published in Science Advances here

Published in Marine Science
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