IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis


28th July, 2023 Geography

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The potential collapse of the Gulf Stream system, known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (Amoc).


  • The Gulf Stream system faces a threat of collapse, known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (Amoc).
  • Scientists have observed warning signs of a tipping point in 2021, and a new study suggests a potential timescale for the collapse.
  • The consequences of Amoc collapse would be catastrophic, with severe climate impacts around the world.

The Weakening of Amoc

  • Amoc is already at its weakest in 1,600 years due to global heating.
  • Researchers have identified an influx of fresh water from melting ice caps as a key factor smothering the currents.
  • Past collapses during ice ages indicate temperature changes of 10 degrees Centigrade in just a few decades.

Estimates and Uncertainties

  • The new analysis estimates a timescale for the collapse between 2025 and 2095, with a central estimate of 2050, if global carbon emissions are not reduced.
  • Uncertainties in assumptions and data make it challenging to provide a reliable estimate of the tipping point's timing.
  • However, scientists agree that the prospect of Amoc collapse is extremely concerning and calls for immediate cuts in carbon emissions.

Impact of Amoc Collapse

  • Disrupts rains in regions like India, South America, and West Africa, impacting food supply for billions of people.
  • Increases storms and lowers temperatures in Europe.
  • Leads to a rising sea level on the eastern coast of North America.
  • Endangers the Amazon rainforest and Antarctic ice sheets.

Significance of the Study

  • Led by Prof Peter Ditlevsen from the University of Copenhagen, the study sheds light on the unprecedented nature of Amoc collapse.
  • Amoc has not been shut off for 12,000 years, making the potential impact unprecedented.
  • The study adds to the growing body of evidence regarding climate tipping points.

Debate and Further Research

  • The potential collapse of Amoc is intensely debated among scientists.
  • Some suggest that the uncertainties and limitations of the study may affect the accuracy of the tipping point's timing.
  • Scientists call for further research and improved models to gain a better understanding of Amoc behavior.

About Gulf Stream

  • The Gulf Stream is a powerful ocean current in the Atlantic Ocean, known for its significant role in influencing regional and global climates.
  • Originating in the Gulf of Mexico, the Gulf Stream flows northward along the eastern coast of North America before crossing the Atlantic towards Europe.
  • It is one of the major components of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (Amoc).

Formation and Pathway

  • The Gulf Stream is formed by the convergence of warm waters from the equator and the Caribbean Sea in the Gulf of Mexico.
  • It follows a distinct pathway along the eastern coast of the United States, extending northward towards the Canadian Maritimes.
  • The current then veers eastward across the Atlantic Ocean, eventually reaching Europe.

Warmth and Climate Influence

  • The Gulf Stream is characterized by its warm waters, which are significantly warmer than the surrounding ocean currents.
  • As it moves along the eastern coast of North America, it has a moderating effect on the climate, leading to milder temperatures in the region.
  • The warm waters of the Gulf Stream also contribute to the formation of hurricanes and tropical storms in the Atlantic.

Influence on European Climate

  • The Gulf Stream plays a crucial role in maintaining the relatively mild climate of Northwestern Europe, particularly in regions like the UK, Ireland, and Scandinavia.
  • It transfers large amounts of heat from the tropics to the higher latitudes, which keeps the coastal areas warmer during winters.

Impact on Marine Life

  • The Gulf Stream supports a diverse array of marine life due to its warm waters and rich nutrient content.
  • It serves as a migratory pathway for various marine species, including fish, sea turtles, and marine mammals.
  • The abundance of food resources along the Gulf Stream sustains numerous fisheries.

Trans-Atlantic Shipping and Trade

  • The Gulf Stream has historically been essential for trans-Atlantic shipping and trade routes.
  • Sailors and navigators have utilized the current to facilitate faster voyages between the Americas and Europe.

Vulnerability to Climate Change

  • The Gulf Stream is vulnerable to disruptions and shifts due to climate change and melting ice in the Arctic.
  • Changes in temperature and salinity can affect the strength and stability of the current, potentially leading to alterations in weather patterns and regional climates.


Q) Consider the following statements regarding Gulf Stream

  1. The Gulf Stream is a warm ocean current that originates in the Gulf of Mexico.
  2. It has a moderating effect on the climate, leading to colder temperatures along the eastern coast of North America.

Select the correct statements using the codes below

(a)    1 only

(b)   2 only

(c)    Both 1 and 2

(d)   Neither 1 nor 2

Answer: C