Atlantic current at its weakest in 1,600 years

1st May 2018

P6 ocean

Related Topics

Related tags

  • Global Environment and Social Assessment



Global warming may be responsible for the Atlantic Ocean’s northward current reaching its weakest strength for approximately 1,600 years, multiple studies suggest.

Research led by University College London (UCL) found that the global ocean circulation system hasn’t been running at its peak since the mid-1800s, including the Gulf Stream, which warms Western Europe.

A separate study from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research found that this has worsened rapidly since 1950 in conjunction with rising temperatures. It is thought that melting ice sheets and glaciers caused fresh water to begin the circulation slowdown at the end of the Little Ice Age in 1850, which has been exacerbated over the past 70 years. If this trend continues, it could result in a more rapid increase in sea levels on the east coast of North America, far more extreme winters in Europe, and also disrupt weather patterns in the African Sahel.

“What is common to the two periods of weakening – the end of the Little Ice Age and recent decades – is that both were times of warming and melting,” said UCL senior lecturer Dr David Thornalley.

“Warming and melting are predicted to continue in the future due to continued carbon dioxide emissions,” he added.

To investigate previous Atlantic Ocean circulation, the researchers examined the size of sediment grains deposited by deep-sea currents – the larger the grains, the stronger the current.

They found that its current has weakened by approximately 15%-20% in the past 150 years. This is thought to suggest a gap in current climate models, possibly because they do not consider active ice sheets or because more of the Arctic is melting than thought.


Subscribe to IEMA's newsletters to receive timely articles, expert opinions, event announcements, and much more, directly in your inbox.

Transform articles

New guidance maps out journey to digital environmental assessment

IEMA’s Impact Assessment Network is delighted to have published A Roadmap to Digital Environmental Assessment.

2nd April 2024

Read more

Lisa Pool on how IEMA is shaping a sustainable future with impact assessment

27th November 2023

Read more

IEMA responded in September to the UK government’s consultation on the details of the operational reforms it is looking to make to the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIP) consenting process as put forward in the NSIP reform action plan (February 2023).

24th November 2023

Read more

Members of IEMA’s Impact Assessment Network Steering Group have published the 17th edition of the Impact Assessment Outlook Journal, which provides a series of thought pieces on the policy and practice of habitats regulations assessment (HRA).

26th September 2023

Read more

In July, we published the long-awaited update and replacement of one of IEMA’s first published impact assessment guidance documents from 1993, Guidelines for the Environmental Assessment of Road Traffic.

1st August 2023

Read more

Are we losing sight of its intended purpose and what does the future hold for EIA? Jo Beech, Tiziana Bartolini and Jessamy Funnell report.

15th June 2023

Read more

Luke Barrows and Alfie Byron-Grange look at the barriers to adoption of digital environmental impacts assessments

1st June 2023

Read more

Susan Evans and Helen North consider how Environmental Statements can be more accessible and understandable

1st June 2023

Read more

Media enquires

Looking for an expert to speak at an event or comment on an item in the news?

Find an expert

IEMA Cookie Notice

Clicking the ‘Accept all’ button means you are accepting analytics and third-party cookies. Our website uses necessary cookies which are required in order to make our website work. In addition to these, we use analytics and third-party cookies to optimise site functionality and give you the best possible experience. To control which cookies are set, click ‘Settings’. To learn more about cookies, how we use them on our website and how to change your cookie settings please view our cookie policy.

Manage cookie settings

Our use of cookies

You can learn more detailed information in our cookie policy.

Some cookies are essential, but non-essential cookies help us to improve the experience on our site by providing insights into how the site is being used. To maintain privacy management, this relies on cookie identifiers. Resetting or deleting your browser cookies will reset these preferences.

Essential cookies

These are cookies that are required for the operation of our website. They include, for example, cookies that enable you to log into secure areas of our website.

Analytics cookies

These cookies allow us to recognise and count the number of visitors to our website and to see how visitors move around our website when they are using it. This helps us to improve the way our website works.

Advertising cookies

These cookies allow us to tailor advertising to you based on your interests. If you do not accept these cookies, you will still see adverts, but these will be more generic.

Save and close