Why is an ocean current critical to world weather losing steam? Scientists search the Arctic for answers.
A conveyor belt of ocean water that loops the planet and regulates global temperatures could be heading for a tipping point.
Summer sea ice has been shrinking so dramatically here in the Fram Strait, high in the Arctic between Norway and Greenland, that researchers who make this trip annually point out missing patches like memories of departed friends.
“The first time I was here, in 2008, you could walk on the ice,” says Norwegian Polar Institute (NPI) oceanographer Paul Dodd, gesturing from the deck of this research icebreaker toward the spot, near the Prime Meridian, where his team is about to take samples for temperature, salinity, dissolved carbon, and other chemical measurements of what is now open water. It’s dotted with only a few random, battered-looking ice drifts.
Temperatures are rising and ice is melting all over Earth. But this place is special: The ocean changes that are happening right here could dramatically alter the climate for much of the rest of the planet.