NASA Observes Key Ocean Circulation System

PASADENA, Calif., March 29 (UPI) — NASA says new data show the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation — part of what’s known as the global ocean conveyor belt — may have sped up recently.

The information was gleaned from a new monitoring program developed by Josh Willis of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., which includes measurements from satellites and an array of approximately 3,000 robotic floats supported in part by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The floats measure temperature, salinity and velocity across the world’s oceans.


“The Atlantic overturning circulation is a system of currents, including the Gulf Stream, that bring warm surface waters from the tropics northward into the North Atlantic,” NASA said. “There, in the seas surrounding Greenland, the water cools, sinks to great depths and changes direction. What was once warm surface water heading north turns into cold deep water going south. This overturning is one part of the vast conveyor belt of ocean currents that move heat around the globe.”

Scientists said without the heat carried by that system, the North Atlantic climate — in Europe, North America and North Africa — would likely be much colder.

“Nobody imagined that this large-scale circulation could be captured by these global observing systems,” Willis said. “Their amazing precision allows us to detect subtle changes in the ocean that could have big impacts on climate.”

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