Agulhas Current-Keeping Europe Green, or Not

 A new study from a consortium of scientific climate and weather-related organizations indicates that, even if the Gulf Stream should fail, “leakage” from a little-known current called the Agulhas could come to the rescue to keep the western side of the UK warm.


Published in the April 28 issue of the journal Nature, the (fee-based) report suggests that the Agulhas Current, which runs south around the tip of Africa, from east to west (see diagram, courtesy, could take over where the Gulf Stream leaves off – or at the very least ameliorate some of the big chill predicted as the Gulf Stream fails.


This Gulf Stream, part of a larger ocean current system called the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, or AMOC – and this part of a deeper and more extensive ocean circulation pattern called the Global Conveyor Belt – works to keep the UK balmy because water density depends on temperature and salinity.


This works to the UK’s disadvantage as the Arctic melts, because a huge pool of cold, fresh water currently sitting over the Arctic could drift into the Gulf Stream and weaken it. In fact, scientists who began observing changing UK winter weather patterns as far back as 2003 speculate that this Arctic ice melt is the primary cause of the terrible winters of 2009-10 and 2010-11 simply because it cools the otherwise warm and salty Gulf Stream.

ocean currents

Other scientists, of course, blame the UK’s cooling on sunspots, or lack thereof (which one source says causes a “kink” in the jet stream, a giant band of moving air that distributes and equalizes temperatures on land).


Truth is, no one really knows because no one, even the most learned scientists, knows enough about the earth to say whether, or when, the Agulhas will come to the UK’s rescue. In fact, the very best scientists actually admit their ignorance – and also admit that only with the technological developments of the last 40 or 50 years have we been able to identify and track some of the more profound patterns that affect weather.


For example, even though the Agulhas current (which takes its name from the S. African Cape, Cabo das Agulhas, or Cape of Needles) has been written about extensively, estimates of its effect on the South Atlantic Ocean – and thus the UK – are based on “could haves”; that is, no one really knows.


Thus, we humans bumble along, some with the very best intentions, others focused largely on profit, warming the atmosphere and oceans with carbon dioxide and other gases emitted by burning fossil fuels, creating genetically modified grains and Frankenfish, and largely hoping that luck will see us through.


tree Hate to say it, but it ain’t gonna happen. When it comes to climate change, there is no deus ex machina, no alien rescue species, no savior waiting in the wings. We are on our own, and it’s time to pick up that shovel, plant that tree, commute to work, explain to our children why we need to eliminate the cheap plastic toys, and generally reduce our human footprint. While we’re at it, we should also cut back on the showers, stop flushing the pee, use our grey water to grow veggies instead of grass, and give up golf.


It’s time to pay the piper.  


Photo courtesy of frogs are green


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  • Posted on May 9, 2011. Listed in:

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