Get ready for the big freeze! Intensification of extreme cold weather across the US as ocean circulation slows down!

Extreme cold weather in the US due to AMOC ocean circulation slowing down
Extreme cold weather in the US due to AMOC ocean circulation slowing down. Matthew Rader

Slower ocean circulation as the result of climate change could intensify extreme cold weather in the U.S., according to new UArizona research.

Throughout Earth’s oceans runs a conveyor belt of water. Its churning is powered by differences in the water’s temperature and saltiness, and weather patterns around the world are regulated by its activity.

Now, a new science publication shows that the Atlantic portion of this worldwide conveyor belt called the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, or AMOC, critically influences winter weather in the United States. As AMOC currently slows down, the U.S. will experience more extreme cold winter weather.

How does AMOC work?

Warm water travels north in the upper Atlantic Ocean and releases heat into the atmosphere at high latitudes. As the water cools, it becomes denser, which causes it to sink into the deep ocean where it flows back south.

atlantic meridional overturning circulation, amok, atlantic meridional overturning circulation
Topographic map of the Nordic Seas and subpolar basins with schematic circulation of surface currents (solid curves) and deep currents (dashed curves) that form a portion of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation. Colors of curves indicate approximate temperatures. Via Wikipedia CC BY 3.0

This circulation transports an enormous amount of heat – on the order of 1 petawatts, or 10 to the 15 power watts- northward in the ocean. Right now, the energy consumption by the entire world is about 20 terawatts, or 10 to the 12 power watts. So, 1 petawatt is enough to run about 50 civilizations.

But ocean surfaces are currently warming. At the same time, the Greenland ice sheet experiences melting, which dumps more freshwater into the ocean. Both warming and freshening of the water can reduce surface water density and inhibit the sinking of the water, slowing the AMOC. If the AMOC slows, so does the northward heat transport.

This is important because the equator receives more energy from the sun than the poles. Both the atmosphere and ocean work to transport energy from low latitudes to high latitudes. If the ocean can’t transport as much heat northward, then the atmosphere must instead transport more heat through more extreme weather processes at mid-latitudes. When the atmosphere moves heat northward, cold air is displaced from the poles and pushed to lower latitudes, reaching places as far south as the U.S. southern border.

Think of it as two highways connecting two big cities. If one is shut down, the other one gets more traffic. In the atmosphere, the traffic is the daily weather. So, if the ocean heat transport slows or shuts down, the weather becomes more extreme.

The study was motivated by the extreme cold weather Texas experienced in February. Here some amazing pictures from the Big Freeze!

In Houston, the daily temperature dropped to 40 degrees Fahrenheit below the normal,” Yin said. “That’s the typical range of a summer/winter temperature difference. It made Texas feel like the Arctic. This kind of extreme winter weather happened several times in the U.S. during recent years, so the scientific community has been working to understand the mechanism behind these extreme events.

The crisis in Texas caused widespread and catastrophic power outages, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimated that socioeconomic damages totaled $20 billion. Yin was curious about the role the ocean played in the extreme weather event.

Yin and Zhao used a state-of-the-art, high-resolution global climate model to measure the influence of the AMOC on U.S. extreme cold weather.

They ran the model twice, first looking at today’s climate with a functioning AMOC. They then adjusted the model by inputting enough freshwater into the high-latitude North Atlantic to shut down the AMOC. The difference revealed the role of the AMOC in extreme cold weather. They found that without the AMOC and its northward heat transport, extremely cold winter weather intensifies in the U.S.

The researchers also didn’t take into account in their model the effects of human-caused global warming, but that’s an area of interest for the future, Yin said.

We basically just turn off the AMOC (in the model) to look at the response by extreme weather,” he said. “Next, we want to factor in the greenhouse gases and look at the combined effects of the AMOC slowdown and global warming on extreme cold weather.” [Arizona EDU, Nature]

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  1. It has nothing to do with the Gulf Oil spill that lasted 3 month and because of which they said that this would happen?

  2. Ying and Yang are a little late to the party – The North Atlantic Thermohaline
    Conveyor, The Loop Current, (Actually the Loop Current is the name of that portion of the Gulf Stream which makes a “loop” in the Gulf of Mexico. It was disrupted and lost its connection with the Gulf Stream after the BP spill and the Corexit, thus breaking the connection of the warm Gulf of Mexico water with the rest of the Gulf Stream.
    On June 12, 2010, the Gulf Stream stopped.
    On June 12, 2010, the Gulf Stream stopped.

    • A+++++++++++++++++++ Yup!! We watched it all unfold. Also, I watched a large HAARP focussing barge leave Seattle and Elliot Bay to travel down the west coast to park about 1,000 miles out from northern California. The process of blocking and redirecting this damp air is EASILY viewed from the raw feed data at the U.S. Weather Satellite website. Here off northern California it was semi-permanently stationed to deflect moisture laden air off the Pacific Ocean to the south and Mexico and Central America. This is THE source of the California drought, and has been for over 8 years. My posts must be blocked for all of this time, because though I have posted this exact provable information I have yet to get more than 2 responses, one being a telephone call. This is not theory. I watched them move the damn thing after the Seattle newspapers published details of the HAARP barge departure.

  3. “If the ocean can’t transport as much heat northward, then the atmosphere must instead transport more heat through more extreme weather processes at mid-latitudes.” A rather extreme assumption……so where does weather modification come in? or how about all the other not so insignificant or neglected variables? like volcanos…

  4. STOP with the Global Warming crap.
    We are now in a Solar Minima (NASA) and it will be getting colder.
    This is being caused by the Suns output being reduced. That means – Earth get colder and we get COLDER…period.

    • Michael. Here we normally have snow by November 1st. Leaves are dropping now. A few days later than last year. Days are high 60s. Nights mid 30s. Quite pleasant. Probably hunt tomorrow.

      • got one last night, nice 5 pointer, big boy. You are correct, nice to hunt in this weather. Backstraps for supper,………..i hear that stuff sells for over a a $100 in restuarants,…….

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