In DepthOceanography

Ocean array alters view of Atlantic conveyor

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Science  23 Feb 2018:
Vol. 359, Issue 6378, pp. 857
DOI: 10.1126/science.359.6378.857

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Oceanographers have put a stethoscope on the coursing circulatory system of the Atlantic Ocean, and they have found a skittish pulse that's surprisingly strong in the waters east of Greenland—discoveries that should improve climate models. The powerful currents known as the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) are an engine in Earth's climate. The AMOC's shallower limbs—which include the Gulf Stream—move warm water from the tropics northward, warming Western Europe. In the north, the waters cool and sink, forming deeper limbs that transport the cold water back south—and sequester anthropogenic carbon in the process. Last week, at the American Geophysical Union's Ocean Sciences meeting, scientists presented the first data from an array of instruments moored in the subpolar North Atlantic, a $35 million, seven-nation project known as the Overturning in the Subpolar North Atlantic Program (OSNAP). Since 2004, researchers have gathered data from another array, at 26°N, stretching from Florida to Africa. But OSNAP is the first to monitor the circulation farther north, where a critical aspect of the overturning occurs. The observations reveal unexpected eddies and strong variability in the AMOC currents. They also show that the currents east of Greenland contribute the most to the total AMOC flow. Climate models, on the other hand, have emphasized the currents west of Greenland in the Labrador Sea.

  • * Katherine Kornei is a journalist in Portland, Oregon.

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