Debunking the Collapsing Gulf Stream Theory

Introduction to The Gulf Stream Collapse Theory. Since the late 1980s, there has been interesting research (and here and here) into the impact that the melting Greenland Ice Sheet has on the Gulf Stream, which is the “conveyor belt” that transfers warm water from the South Atlantic Ocean to the North Atlantic. In short, the idea is that relatively large amounts of fresh water have been pouring off Greenland into the Northern Atlantic since the 1970s, which could be disrupting the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Current (most of which is the Gulf Stream). The science behind this idea is based on the principle that fresh water is lighter than salt water; thus, if too much fresh water is floating around in the North Atlantic, then the average composition of the water is less salty, which means the water cannot sink as fast, which slows the circulation (“overturning”) of water from the North back to the South, which theoretically could slow down or halt the Gulf Stream.

 

Could the Thermohaline Process Ever Collapse? There will always be salinity gradients in the ocean because the oceans will always have salt from continental erosion. This means there will always be pressure gradients between salt water and fresh water convergence zones, which is what drives the energy transfer from one molecule of H2O to another throughout Earth’s hydrosphere. Fresh water imbalances at Earth’s poles can only incrementally weaken those salinity and pressure gradients (as we saw during The Little Ice Age), but it could not eliminate them completely. Thus, a “collapse” of the “thermohaline” (Latin origin: thermal+salt) process in the North Atlantic Ocean is virtually impossible.

 

Could the Gulf Stream Ever Collapse? Given that approximately 80% of the Gulf Stream is driven by atmospheric wind currents that push the ocean’s surface water from the West Coast of Africa across the Atlantic and up into the Sea of Labrador, the thermohaline component of the Gulf Stream contributes only about 20% of the energy that drives the Gulf Stream flow. Additionally, both the ocean and wind currents are far more influenced by the Coriolis force, which is created by the spinning of the Earth; and all these currents are further influenced by the shape of the continental land masses, all of which remain relatively stable over many millions of years. Thus, there could never be a “collapse” of the Gulf Stream as some scientists claim.

 

What Impacts Climate More: The Ocean or the Atmosphere? Although Earth’s oceans contain approximately 1,000 times more heat energy capacity than the atmosphere, the actual climate patterns that impact humans are dominated by atmospheric wind currents. This is because the wind carries the moisture and heat that influences the ecology of all the habitable land masses on the planet, which determines whether food production and other existential human activities are possible. This is an interesting and counter-intuitive case in which the total heat energy capacity of the ocean is not the most significant determining factor of its impact on climate and human activity. This concept is easy to understand if we visualize a hot tub: You will never feel the heat of the water or the humidity of the air above the water unless the wind blows the heat and moisture toward you. The same is true of the oceans and Earth’s climate.

 

The Milankovitch Cycle Has the Most Influence Over Earth’s Climate. We’ve already established that the natural physical features and forces on Earth alone are sufficient to disprove the Thermohaline and Gulf Stream Collapse Theories. However, there are even greater forces that influence Earth’s climate: The gravitational forces between the Sun, Jupiter, Saturn, and the variable solar insolation that those gravitational forces cause, have been overwhelmingly responsible for the warming-and-cooling cycles throughout Earth’s planetary history. These cycles are quantified and defined by the Milankovitch Cycle. Whatever contribution humans have been making to climate change, it has been historically dwarfed by the contribution of the Milankovitch Cycle.

 

Scientific Contradictions Cause People to Ignore Climate Science. The biggest problem with studies that predict the complete shutdown of the Gulf Stream and all its alleged dire consequences is they are always inconclusive and contradictory to numerous other studies. Of course, this is due to the complex nature of climate science and we should allow for credible revisions to scientific literature whenever new data debunks old science, but all the inconclusiveness and contradictions make it impossible for many people to know what to believe. For example, it was not long ago when NASA said “Atlantic Conveyor Belt is Not Slowing.”

 

Major Climate Changes Don’t Always Cause Catastrophic Damage. Between the 13th and 19th Centuries (long before Industrial Age pollution) the Gulf Stream weakened by up to 10%, which corresponded with (not necessarily caused) The Little Ice Age. That was one of the coldest periods in human history, but that period did not produce any catastrophic affects on humanity. To the contrary, that was one of the most creative and productive periods in human history.

 

With So Much Confusion, Should We Pay Attention to Climate Science at All? With so many contradictions and perpetual inconclusiveness, many people check out and ignore climate science completely. Additionally, climate science is frequently polluted with political agendas and conflicts of interest from career-minded politicians, corporations, and scientists trying to build their reputations and bank accounts by publishing “scientific literature” that sometimes lacks credibility. However, we can use common sense and a logical analysis of major, scientifically well-understood climate systems to develop a deeper understanding of how Earth’s climate works, the most significant factors that influence it, how certain human activities are probably impacting it, and what humans can do to reduce their impact on Earth’s climate.

 

Coming Soon: A Framework to Evaluate Scientific Literature and the Propaganda that Tries to Distort It. Over time I will post several nonpartisan articles about the nexus between climate science, economic market forces, and governmental public policies because these topics are easily hijacked, distorted, and corrupted by the Toxic Cloud. You can read one of the first articles in this series now: The Solution to the Climate Change Debate.



About Ferris Eanfar

Ferris has over 20 years of experience in the field of International Political Economy, including leadership positions within technical, business, financial, media and government intelligence environments. If you want to learn more about Ferris, please visit the About Ferris page.