Climate Change: Retreating Sea Ice Linked to Changing Weather Patterns in Europe

First Posted: Jun 29, 2015 11:41 AM EDT

Retreating sea ice could actually impact climate. Scientists have discovered that melting sea ice in the Iceland and Greenland Seas may be altering the circulation of warm and cold water in the Atlantic Ocean which could, in turn, change the climate in Europe.

"A warm western Europe requires a cold North Atlantic Ocean, and the warming that the North Atlantic is now experiencing has the potential to result in a cooling over western Europe," said G.W.K. Moore, one of the researchers, in a news release.

As global warming heats up both the Earth and the ocean, it's causing sea ice to retreat. This means that there won't be nearly as much cold, dense water, generated through a process known as ocean convection, created to flow south and feed the Gulf Stream. If convection decreases, the Gulf Stream may weaken and thus reduce the warming of the atmosphere, in comparison to today.

Traditionally, the Gulf Stream moves warm water north toward western Europe, where it loses heat and moisture to the atmosphere. It essentially acts as a moderator for the climate in this region. The resulting colder, denser water then sinks and returns south at great depth before rising to the surface in the tropics. The cycle then begins all over again.

Yet if the waters warm, then this circulation may not occur. This means that the climate itself could change.

"The heat exchange is weaker-it's like turning the stove down 20 percent," said Moore. "We believe the weakening will continue and eventually cause changes in the Atlantic Meridional Overturning  and the Gulf Stream, which can impact the climate of Europe."

The findings are published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

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