Is there an ice age in our future?

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(Mauricio Antón/Wikimedia Creative Commons)

(Mauricio Antón/Wikimedia Creative Commons)

Our Atlantic Ocean is home to a current called the Atlantic Meridional overturning circulation [AMOC], that is also sometimes referred to as “the conveyor belt of the ocean.” This current plays a key role in the redistribution of heat across the Earth. The AMOC does this by exchanging warm water from the equator with cold water from the Arctic. According to two new studies, scientists are saying that this Atlantic Ocean current that helps to regulate the global climate has reached a 1,000-year low.

Currently, scientists are at odds trying to decipher what is causing this slowdown in current, but they are saying with certainty that it could mean bad news for our climate. The AMOC is being disrupted by melting ice, which is “causing larger volumes of freshwater to flow through the oceans.”

A key part of the overturning circulation is the formation of dense water. David Thornalley, a geologist at University College London, says “the problem is that freshwater isn’t very dense and it stops you forming those dense waters.” The meltwater from the Greenland ice sheet is much less dense and floats on the surface of the ocean, effectively disrupting the ocean’s circulation.

This disruption in the ocean’s circulation is very bad news. Some scientists are even saying that the influx of freshwater into the ocean could cause the current to stop altogether. Thornally compared this to the premise of the 2004 film “The Day After Tomorrow.” The movie focuses on climatologist Jack Hall, whose environmental concerns are ignored by U.N. officials. His research is then proved true by a huge developing “superstorm,” setting off catastrophic natural disasters throughout the world. Thornally has said the effects likely won’t be as catastrophic as how it is presented in the film. Reassuring, right?

Scientists are even more worried about the possibility of the current stopping. Thornally says that “evidence from the past suggests that it actually did happen during the last ice age, and it is possible that it could happen in the future.” So, because people choose to believe that global warming is “fake news” and decide it is not their duty to clean and protect our environment, we could end up with another ice age, possibly within our lifetime. This is obviously an extreme case, and scientists are considering it very unlikely “at the moment,” but this almost feels like a threat. It’s almost as if they are saying that this catastrophe is possible if we continue down the path we are headed.

I personally would like to stop this from happening, mostly because I don’t want our generation to be the one to give the Earth its final push to collapse our ecosystem and destroy our climate. Scientists are currently monitoring the AMOC and trying to decipher the tipping point in which our system will no longer be able to recover quickly.

If you’re anything like me, then this news elicited a freak-out, anxiety-like attack, fear-filled response. It also made me hyper aware that one of the ways to prevent this horrific future from happening is by doing anything and everything possible to stop global warming. According to Thornally, preventing the AMOC slowdown relies heavily on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Yet another reason to counteract global warming.


Kaitlyn Pierce is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus. She can be reached be reached via email at kaitlyn.pierce@ucon.edu.

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