gulf stream swirling off the atlantic coast

The Gulf Stream Is Slowing Down.

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gulf stream swirling off the atlantic coastA color-enhanced image of surface water temperatures shows the Gulf Stream crossing the Atlantic Ocean from the Florida Straits.
© NOAA/NESDIS

The Gulf Stream is almost certainly weakening, a new study has confirmed.

The flow of warm water through the Florida Straits has slowed by 4% over the past four decades, with grave implications for the world’s climate.

The ocean current starts near Florida and threads a belt of warm water along the U.S. East Coast and Canada before crossing the Atlantic to Europe. The heat it transports is essential for maintaining temperate conditions and regulating sea levels.

But this stream is slowing down, researchers wrote in a study published Sept. 25 in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Related: Gulf Stream current could collapse in 2025, plunging Earth into climate chaos: “This is the strongest, most definitive evidence we have of the weakening of this climatically-relevant ocean current,” lead-author Christopher Piecuch, a physical oceanographer at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, said in a statement.

The Gulf Stream is just a small component of the thermohaline circulation — a global conveyor belt of ocean currents that moves oxygen, nutrients, carbon and heat around the planet, while also helping to control sea levels and hurricane activity.

Beginning in Caribbean before flowing out into the Atlantic through the Florida Straits, the Gulf Stream brings warmer southerly waters (which are saltier and denser) northward to cool and sink in the North Atlantic. After dropping deep beneath the ocean and releasing its heat into the atmosphere, the water slowly drifts southward, where it heats up again and the cycle repeats.

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