for National Geographic News
Chilling new evidence from the Atlantic Ocean is raising fears that western Europe could soon be gripped by a mini ice age.
Global warming is slowing down the ocean current that carries warm waters from the tropics to the North Atlantic, scientists say.
In the 2004 eco-disaster movie The Day After Tomorrow, a similar scenario spurred sudden, catastrophic climate change, with much of Europe and the United Stated transformed into frozen wastelands within days.
That scenario remains far-fetched. But British scientists say their new findings indicate that the threat looks all too real for northern Europe and marine animals.
Researchers at the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, England, found that the flow of warm ocean currents toward northwest Europe has declined by 30 percent since the 1950s.
The research, to be published tomorrow in the journal Nature, is based on data collected in a great swath of the Atlantic between West Africa and Florida.
Led by oceanographer Harry Bryden, the team detected other key changes in the overall Atlantic circulation system.
For one thing, there appears to be a 50 percent reduction in the amount of cold, deep water flowing from the North Atlantic to the tropics, the team says.
Also, the researchers found a 50 percent increase in currents circulating within subtropical seas without reaching higher latitudes. More warm waters, that is, are staying put in the tropics.
The study supports computer model predictions suggesting that global warming will switch off the North Atlantic current in the next 50 to 100 years. (See "Global Warming May Alter Atlantic Currents, Study Says.")
"This provides the first evidence that such a slowdown is actually occurring," said Detlef Quadfasel, oceanographer at the University of Hamburg in Germany.
SOURCES AND RELATED WEB SITES