Gulf Stream Will Not Shut Down, Science Magazines Admit

Gulf Stream Will Not Shut Down, Science Magazines Admit
February 1, 2007

James M. Taylor

James M. Taylor is senior fellow for environment and energy policy at The Heartland Institute, and... (read full bio)

Put away your snow shovels, ear muffs, and portable indoor heaters, scientists now say, because global warming will not trigger a new ice age after all.

Putting to rest nearly a decade of scare scenarios involving polar ice caps quickly reclaiming Canada, the northern United States, and northern and central Europe, scientists now report there is no chance of the Gulf Stream shutting down any time soon, regardless of any predicted global warming.

Science magazine, New Scientist, and other scientific publications reported in November 2006 that new research shows no recent slowdown in the Gulf Stream.

Moreover, reported the November 7 New Scientist, "models of the North Atlantic show that a shutdown would not occur in the way oceanographers had expected."

Long History of Alarmism

Since 1998, global warming alarmists have claimed rapid melting of Greenland's ice sheet could shut down the Atlantic Conveyor Belt, dominated by the Gulf Stream, and thus shut off the supply of warm water and air that keeps northern Europe extremely mild for its high latitude.

The resulting advance of ice sheets across Europe, alarmists argued, would quickly spread throughout the entire Northern Hemisphere and plunge the Earth into an already overdue ice age.

Vast Media Coverage

The alarmist predictions were given tremendous media coverage in November 2005, when British oceanographer Harry Bryden reported a 30 percent reduction in the Gulf Stream since measurements were first taken in 1957. Moreover, Bryden reported, the greatest part of that slowdown appeared to have occurred since 1992.

Based upon those claims, alarmists characterized reports of record cold spells in various parts of the globe as predicted effects of global warming, not evidence against the warming theory. While alarmists had always tied heat waves to global warming, the "weakening Gulf Stream theory" allowed them to dismiss the apparently contradictory evidence of recurring cold spells as yet more evidence of global warming.

As Al Gore explained in a speech in New York City in January 2004, one of the coldest days in New York City history, "The extreme conditions are actually the end result of the planet warming. The Bush policies are leading to weather extremes."

Data Debunk Fears

New data from an array of 19 measuring stations attached to buoys throughout the Atlantic Ocean show no slowing of the Gulf Stream.

Scientists examining the data concluded Bryden's assertions were based on a single "snapshot" measurement of the Gulf Stream, which has always been subject to wide, temporary variances.

Looking at comprehensive data taken from a much larger sampling area over a much longer period of time, scientists concluded, in the words of the November 17 issue of Science magazine, "the lag reported late last year was a mere flicker in a system prone to natural slowdowns and speedups."

Reporting from an October conference of scientists that examined the new data, German oceanographer Martin Visbeck told Science, "more than 95 percent of the scientists at the workshop concluded that we have not seen any significant change of the Atlantic circulation to date."

Johan Jungclaus, a German scientist who models ice sheets, reported in the November 7 New Scientist, "Abrupt climate change initiated by the ice sheet melting is not a realistic scenario for the 21st century."

Climate Realists Ignored

Climate realists have long argued that alarmist predictions of a demise of the Gulf Stream were scientifically unsubstantiated.

Robert Bradley, president of the Institute for Energy Research, pointed out the speculative nature of such claims in the September 2000 issue of Environment & Climate News. "Climate-oceanic interactions are clearly a complicated subject that the science community is still trying to understand," reported Bradley.

Other climate realists were even more critical, though news stories rarely reported the possibility they might be correct.

Benny Peiser, a research scientist at John Moores University in Liverpool, England, pointed out in December 2005 that the Gulf Stream shutdown theory was a "silly ice age scare" that was "swallowed hook, line, and sinker" by media allies of global warming alarmists.

"Cooling prophecies are simply not corroborated by some of the most advanced climate research," noted Peiser in a letter to Nature. "At best, they are speculative and as such should be handled with extreme caution. What is more, the conjectures you are promoting fly in the face of all previous long-term climate predictions on which UK government policies have been based for years."

"We can only hope the news media report the scientific refutation of this scare scenario as vigorously as they reported its initial postulation," said Bradley in an interview for this article. "Such a forthright scientific refutation makes it very hard for the environmental activist groups to continue trotting out this scare scenario.

"We can add this debunked alarmist scare to a plethora of other debunked environmental scares, such as the population bomb, global cooling, and resource exhaustion," Bradley added. "This is certainly an embarrassment to Al Gore, who presented this as one of the potential global warming catastrophes in his recent propaganda film."


James M. Taylor (taylor@heartland.org) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.


For more information ...

Merali, Z., "No New Ice Age for Western Europe," New Scientist, November 7, 2006, http://environment.newscientist.com/article/mg19225763.900.html

Kerr, R., "False Alarm: Atlantic Conveyor Belt Hasn't Slowed Down After All," Science, November 17, 2006, http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/summary/314/5802/1064a

Bradley, R., "The Oceans are Fine: Worry about the Media," Environment & Climate News, September 1, 2000, http://www.heartland.org/Article.cfm?artId=9654

James M. Taylor

James M. Taylor is senior fellow for environment and energy policy at The Heartland Institute, and... (read full bio)