Tipping Points in Detail | Ocean Currents (Ep 2/3)

Nature can be imagined like a human body. It is an arbitrarily complex system – everything is interconnected and in constant exchange. If one variable gets out of balance, the whole system can collapse. This is also the case with our oceans, the largest ecosystem covering over 70% of our planet.

Ocean currents shape the form of the world’s oceans and are driven by wind, differences in salinity, tides and temperature differences. The currents have a strong influence on the climate of our planet.

In the Atlantic, for example, the Gulf Stream transports tropically warm surface water to the north. It is the reason why we can enjoy warm summers and mild winters in Europe. Further north, the current cools down more and more, and the salinity increases. The water becomes so heavy that it crashes off Greenland and starts its return journey to milder zones.

The effects of climate change on the world’s oceans and their currents are tangible. For decades, the world’s oceans have been heating up more and more and thus also have an immense influence on ocean currents. Due to the warming of the oceans, the ocean currents are becoming weaker and weaker, and there is a shift in the climate. When the Gulf Stream dries up, Europe cools down considerably, and sea levels rise off North America. Millions of people in coastal areas lose their livelihoods, and in central and northern Europe, farming and livestock breeding become a challenge.

Where are we today? Fortunately, this tipping point has not yet been passed, and the engine of the oceans is still running. However, ocean currents no longer flow as reliably as they used to, and the Gulf Stream has slowed by about 15% in the past 70 years.

A continuous change in the temperatures of our oceans by only a few degrees can trigger a chain reaction, the effects of which we can hardly quantify today.

More information about tipping points here


All the parts of our series:

  1. Amazon Rainforest
  2. Ocean Currents
  3. Melting Ice