Researchers are warning that the crucial ocean currents known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) could collapse as soon as 2025 — an impending, climate change-fueled disaster that could usher in a new era of extreme temperature fluctuations.
It's important to note that not every scientist is convinced by this assessment. And though the researchers say the collapse could take place as soon 2025, they also say it could take another 70 years.
That said, a team of researchers led by Peter Ditlevsen, professor and climate researcher at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark anticipate in a paper published in the journal Nature Communications that the currents could collapse anywhere between 2025 and 2095 — if we don't cut global carbon emissions, that is.
If it were to collapse, much of the Western world could be plunged into an extended period of extreme cold — a counterintuitive result of climate change. Previous collapses, which have predominantly occurred during ice ages many thousands of years ago, have indeed led to temperatures going haywire.
"I think we should be very worried," Ditlevsen told The Guardian. "This would be a very, very large change. The AMOC has not been shut off for 12,000 years."
Back in 2021, researchers at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany warned in a separate paper that the AMOC is being driven to the brink of collapse due to climate change. In the short term, this collapse could cause temperatures to plunge in Europe and North America, resulting in prolonged periods of extreme cold.
And if the planet's past history is anything to go by, the stakes are significant. 12,000 years ago, the melting of a massive glacial lake plunged Europe into an extreme cold spell for almost a millennium.
Now, by analyzing statistics from the last 150 years, Ditlevsen and his team say they've calculated with a 95 percent certainty that the AMOC will collapse between 2025 and 2095.
"Shutting down the AMOC can have very serious consequences for Earth’s climate, for example, by changing how heat and precipitation are distributed globally," Ditlevsen said in a statement.
"While a cooling of Europe may seem less severe as the globe as a whole becomes warmer and heat waves occur more frequently, this shutdown will contribute to increased warming of the tropics, where rising temperatures have already given rise to challenging living conditions," he added.
This change could be far more rapid than the incremental 1.5 degrees Celsius rise caused by climate change over a century. With a collapsed AMOC, we'd be looking at far more extreme changes in the ten to 15 degrees Celsius range over just a decade.
"Our result underscores the importance of reducing global greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible," Ditlevsen said.
But while researchers generally agree with this final conclusion, not everybody is convinced the AMOC is about to, well, run amok.
For one, the conclusion contradicts the latest findings of the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which found in its most recent report that the current was unlikely to just collapse within this century.
"The work provides no reason to change the assessment of the [IPCC]," Jochem Marotzke of the Max-Planck-Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg, told Politico.
"We just don't have the evidence to state that it has declined," Penny Holliday, researcher at the UK's National Oceanography Center, told the BBC. "We know that there is a possibility that AMOC could stop what it's doing now at some point, but it's really hard to have certainty about that."
At the same time, while we may never get a 100 percent accurate prediction — after all, our planet's climate systems are incredibly complex — we should still heed Ditlevsen and his colleagues' warning.
"We do still have to take the idea seriously that there could be abrupt changes in the North Atlantic climate system," University of Reading atmospheric scientist Jon Robson told the BBC. "But the exact predictions that it will happen — and within this time frame — you have to take that with some skepticism."
More on climate change: Scientists Resurrect 46,000 Year Old Worms, Which Instantly Started Reproducing
Share This Article