Gulf Stream Weakening ?  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

National Geographic News reports that sea levels on the US east coast have risen as a result of a slowing gulf stream - Sea Levels Rose Two Feet This Summer in U.S. East.

Sea levels rose as much as 2 feet (60 centimeters) higher than predicted this summer along the U.S. East Coast, surprising scientists who forecast such periodic fluctuations.

The immediate cause of the unexpected rise has now been solved, U.S. officials say in a new report (hint: it wasn't global warming). But the underlying reason remains a mystery.

Usually, predicting seasonal tides and sea levels is a pretty cut-and-dried process, governed by the known movements and gravitational influences of astronomical bodies like the moon, said Rich Edwing, deputy director for the Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

But NOAA's phones began ringing this summer when East Coast residents reported higher than predicted water levels, much like those associated with short-term weather events like tropical storms. But these high seas persisted for weeks, throughout June and July.

The startling rise caused only minor coastal flooding—but major head scratching among scientists.

Gulf Stream Mysteriously Slowed

Now a new report has identified the two major factors behind the high sea levels—a weakened Gulf Stream and steady winds from the northeastern Atlantic.

The Gulf Stream is a northward-flowing superhighway of ocean water off the U.S. East Coast. Running at full steam, the powerful current pulls water into its "orbit" and away from the East Coast.

But this summer, for reasons unknown, "the Gulf Stream slowed down," Edwing said, sending water toward the coasts—and sea levels shooting upward. ...

Even before the new report, released by NOAA on September 2, Apostolides said many local fishers had already attributed the sea level rise to the "ferocious" winds from the northeast.

But the underlying puzzle remains.

"Why did the Gulf Stream slow down? Why did the fall wind pattern appear earlier?" NOAA's Edwing said. "We don't have those answers."


I find it hard to believe that they say it's not related to global warming since one of the things that is predicted to happen as the earth warms is for the gulf stream to slow or stop altogether.

Yeah - the prediction of the gulf stream slowing is usually based on melting greenland glaciers lowering the salinity level in the north atlantic and thus halting the downwelling that drives the gulf stream.

Presumably this hasn't happened yet otherwise we'd have the climate science community all loudly pointing at this event.

Solar activity (or lack there of) induced? In the past a blunt rise of precipitants have also had a slowing effect on stream.

Yet I am 'out of my league to guess on ocean currents' as is nearly everyone else, as we only understand and have explored a very small fraction of our worlds life blood (oceans).

But hey, lets spend trillion$ more on space to look for a new home to wreck and escape from our responsibilities ;-)

Sorry for the unusually cynical comment, the passing of Norman Borlaug reminded me how little we have grown...

I think there's a problem with making any definitive statements about Gulf Stream activity and climate change.

The problem comes from a lack of having a significant number of measurement devices in place for a long enough time, we don't have a 'baseline' against which to judge changes we see.

In 2004 (2006?) it was reported that the Gulf Stream shut down for ten days. Based on the readings from the few available sensors one might be led to believe so. But since measurements weren't available from other areas it isn't clear whether that was total system event or a localized condition caused by a large eddy/whatever.

Hope for the sake of you guys down under that this thing doesn't shut down. If that were to happen I understand you'd be looking back at these last hot months as the "cool old days".

Chris - thanks for the Borlaug link - I hadn't noticed that yet.

Robert - not sure how the gulf stream affects the southern hemisphere - could you elaborate ?

It does keep northern Europe - particularly Ireland and Britain - relatively temperate - they would be in trouble if it shut down for good.

Hey Big Gav

The Gulf Stream is part of the global Thermo-Haline Circulation system. Google it.

OK - but does anyone believe stopping the gulf stream stops the entire system ?

I was not kidding about the sea bed floor aerosol or solar flare effect.

Clearly CS monitor has a 'bias' here... but are there historic data events that correlate the solar and stream effects (that are not horribly skewed by bias)???

We have had satellites tracking this since the 70's. I think we could ask for results ;-)

P.S. GAV, I have also tried web 2.0 themes like you have up today and could not get large data sheets and images to format correctly.... but you can modify the main and side columns to be a percent of screen and not a pre set pixel value to resolve.

Found it... and no less from an Aussie publication ;-)

Thanks Chris - I hadn't heard of that linkage before.

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