The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation. Source: Praetorius (2018)

Major study uncovers ‘sea change’ in world’s understanding of Atlantic conveyor belt

An international research programme has uncovered data that could transform scientists’ understanding of the Atlantic Ocean current – a circulation pattern that plays a central role in determining weather across the world. The warm water that the AMOC carries northwards releases heat into the atmosphere, which means it plays a crucial role in keeping western Europe warm.

The research, published in Science, challenges the long-held view that the strength of the “Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation” (AMOC) is primarily driven by processes in the Labrador Sea, which is in the north-west Atlantic.

Instead, the project finds that – over a 21-month period – the strength of the AMOC was most linked to processes in waters between Greenland and Scotland, more than 1,000 miles away in the north-east Atlantic.

The research is “very useful for our understanding of how climate change could affect the AMOC because it points us in the direction of which regions and processes might be particularly important for maintaining the overturning circulation”, a scientist tells Carbon Brief.

Conveyor belt

The AMOC – which is sometimes referred to as the “Atlantic conveyor belt” – is a large-scale ocean current that moves warm, salty water from the tropics to regions further north, such as western Europe.

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