Correspondence | Published:

Gulf Stream safe if wind blows and Earth turns

Nature volume 428, page 601 (08 April 2004) | Download Citation



Your News story “Gulf Stream probed for early warnings of system failure” (Nature 427, 769; 200410.1038/427769a) discusses what the climate in the south of England would be like “without the Gulf Stream”. Sadly, this phrase has been seen far too often, usually in newspapers concerned with the unlikely possibility of a new ice age in Britain triggered by the loss of the Gulf Stream.

European readers should be reassured that the Gulf Stream's existence is a consequence of the large-scale wind system over the North Atlantic Ocean, and of the nature of fluid motion on a rotating planet. The only way to produce an ocean circulation without a Gulf Stream is either to turn off the wind system, or to stop the Earth's rotation, or both.

Real questions exist about conceivable changes in the ocean circulation and its climate consequences. However, such discussions are not helped by hyperbole and alarmism. The occurrence of a climate state without the Gulf Stream any time soon — within tens of millions of years — has a probability of little more than zero.

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  1. Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 77 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139, USA

    • Carl Wunsch


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