New research by scientists at the University of Wisconsin–Madison has found that melting ice caps may not end up shutting down ocean currents.
Up to this point, most climate change models predicted that melting ice caps would shut down the Atlantic Ocean current, which takes warm tropical waters north, and brings cold water south.
The scientists are revising their model based on new information and understanding of the relationship between melting polar freshwater and the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC).
According to Feng He, an associate scientist at UW–Madison’s Center for Climatic Research:
“We’ve been taught to picture it like a conveyor belt — even in middle school and high school now, it’s taught this way — that shuts down when freshwater comes in from ice melt.”
However, by modeling the historical warming and cooling of the Earth in the geological past, the scientists were able to show that the current could withstand melting ice caps. He added:
“The important result is that the AMOC appears to be less sensitive to freshwater forcing than has long been thought, according to both the data and model.”
The latest research was a joint project by He and Oregon State University paleoclimatologist Peter Clark and was published in the journal Nature Climate Change.