Topics: Climate Change, Existentialism, Global Warming, Research
In the 2004 climate-change disaster flick "The Day After Tomorrow," increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have a paradoxical effect: Rather than heating up the planet, they trigger a sudden-onset global ice age. The movie was very silly and unscientific, but there was a kernel of truth at the core of it: The Earth really does have a massive, hidden air-conditioning system that messes with the climate in paradoxical, unexpected ways and is, in turn, affected by climate change. And a new paper turns to that AC unit to, possibly, answer one of the abiding mysteries of climate change: Why did warming seem to "pause" from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s?
Earth's air conditioning system is called the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC). It's a massive, looping current that carries warm water over the sea surface toward the North Atlantic and ferries cold (denser) water south along a deeper undersea route. It's the most important reason that much of Europe — a region much farther north than most population centers in North America or Asia — is warm enough to be comfortably inhabited, and it generally moderates temperatures across the North Atlantic region.
Researchers have suspected for a long time that the fate of the AMOC might be important to the overall fate of a world subject to rapid climate change.
The new paper, published July 18 in the journal Nature, argues that things might not work that way in a world like ours, warming rapidly as it is thanks to the extreme spike in greenhouse gases. The new study follows up on earlier research published in 2014 by the same authors, which Live Science covered at the time.
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