The Position of the Gulf Stream During Quaternary Glaciations

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Science  22 Jul 1988:
Vol. 241, Issue 4864, pp. 440-442
DOI: 10.1126/science.241.4864.440


Ocean general circulation theories predict that the position of the boundary between subtropical and subpolar gyres (and therefore the position of the Gulf Stream-North Atlantic Current system and the subpolar-subtropical front) is set by the line of zero "Ekman pumping," where there is no convergence or divergence of water in the directly wind-forced surface layer of the ocean. In the present-day North Atlantic Ocean this line runs southwest to northeast, from off the Carolinas to off Ireland. However, during the last ice age (18,000 years ago) the subpolar-subtropical boundary ran more zonally, directly toward Gibraltar. A numerical atmospheric general circulation model indicates that the field of Ekman pumping 18,000 years ago was modified by the presence of a continental ice cap more than 3 kilometers thick such that the line of zero Ekman pumping overlaid the paleogyre boundary. These results demonstrate that the presence of a thick continental ice sheet could have caused changes in sea surface temperatures in the North Atlantic during Quaternary glaciations by altering wind patterns.