The current, called the North Icelandic Jet (NIJ), contributes to a key component of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), also known as the "great ocean conveyor belt," which is critically important for regulating Earth's climate.
As part of the planet's reciprocal relationship between ocean circulation and climate, this conveyor belt transports warm surface water to high latitudes where the water warms the air, then cools, sinks, and returns towards the equator as a deep flow.
Crucial to this warm-to-cold oceanographic choreography is the Denmark Strait Overflow Water (DSOW), the largest of the deep, overflow plumes that feed the lower limb of the conveyor belt and return the dense water south through gaps in the Greenland-Scotland Ridge.
For years it has been thought that the primary source of the Denmark Overflow is a current adjacent to Greenland known as the East Greenland Current. However, this view was recently called into question by two oceanographers from Iceland who discovered a deep current flowing southward along the continental slope of Iceland. They named the current the North Icelandic Jet and hypothesized that it formed a significant part of the overflow water.
Now, in a paper published in the Aug. 21 online issue of the journal Nature Geoscience, the team of researchers—including the two Icelanders who discovered it—has confirmed that the Icelandic Jet is not only a major contributor to the DSOW but "is the primary source of the densest overflow water."
"In our paper we present the first comprehensive measurements of the NIJ," said Robert S. Pickart of WHOI, one of the authors of the study. "Our data demonstrate that the NIJ indeed carries overflow water into Denmark Strait and is distinct from the East Greenland Current. We show that the NIJ constitutes approximately half of the total overflow transport and nearly all of the densest component.
The researchers used a numerical model to hypothesize where and how the NIJ is formed. "We've identified a new paradigm," he said. "We're hypothesizing a new, overturning loop" of warm water to cold.
The results, Pickart says, have "important ramifications" for ocean circulation's impact on climate. Climate specialists have been concerned that the conveyor belt is slowing down due to a rise in global temperatures. They suggest that increasing amounts of fresh water from melting ice and other warming-related phenomena are making their way into the northern North Atlantic, where it could freeze, which would prevent the water from sinking and decrease the need for the loop to deliver as much warm water as it does now. Eventually, this could lead to a colder climate in the northern hemisphere.
While this scenario is far from certain, it is critical that researchers understand the overturning process, he said, to be able to make accurate predictions about the future of climate and circulation interaction. "If a large fraction of the overflow water comes from the NIJ, then we need to re-think how quickly the warm-to-cold conversion of the AMOC occurs, as well as how this process might be altered under a warming climate," Pickart said.
"These results implicate local water mass transformation and exchange near Iceland as central contributors to the deep limb of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, and raise new questions about how global ocean circulation will respond to future climate change," said Eric Itsweire, program director in the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF)'s Division of Ocean Sciences, which funded the research.
The Research Council of Norway also funded the analysis of the data.
Pickart and a team of scientists from the U.S., Iceland, Norway, and the Netherlands are scheduled to embark on Aug. 22 on a cruise aboard the WHOI-operated R/V Knorr to collect new information on the overturning in the Iceland Sea.
"During our upcoming cruise on the Knorr we will, for the first time, deploy an array of year-long moorings across the entire Denmark Strait to quantify the NIJ and distinguish it from the East Greenland Current," Pickart said. "Then we will collect shipboard measurements in the Iceland Sea to the north of the mooring line to determine more precisely where and how the NIJ originates."
In addition to Pickart, authors of the Nature Geoscience study include Michael A. Spall, and Daniel J. Torres of WHOI, lead author Kjetil Våge, a graduate of the MIT-WHOI joint program now with University of Bergen, Norway, Svein Østerhus and Tor Eldevik, also of the University of Bergen, Norway, and Héðinn Valdimarsson and Steingrímur Jónsson—the two discoverers of the NIJ—of the Marine Research Institute in Reykjavik, Iceland.
The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is a private, independent organization in Falmouth, Mass., dedicated to marine research, engineering, and higher education. Established in 1930 on a recommendation from the National Academy of Sciences, its primary mission is to understand the ocean and its interaction with the Earth as a whole, and to communicate a basic understanding of the ocean's role in the changing global environment.
Media Relations | EurekAlert!
Further reports about: > AMOC > Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation > Atlantic mollies > Denmark > Geoscience > Greenland > Iceland > Icelandic volcanoes > Nature Geoscience > Nature Immunology > Oceanographic Institution > WHOI > Woods Hole Oceanographic > conveyor belt > global temperature > ocean circulation > overflow > sea snails
Jacobs University supports new mapping of Mars, Mercury and the Moon
21.03.2018 | Jacobs University Bremen gGmbH
Thawing permafrost produces more methane than expected
20.03.2018 | GFZ GeoForschungsZentrum Potsdam, Helmholtz Centre
In just a few weeks from now, the Chinese space station Tiangong-1 will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere where it will to a large extent burn up. It is possible that some debris will reach the Earth's surface. Tiangong-1 is orbiting the Earth uncontrolled at a speed of approx. 29,000 km/h.Currently the prognosis relating to the time of impact currently lies within a window of several days. The scientists at Fraunhofer FHR have already been monitoring Tiangong-1 for a number of weeks with their TIRA system, one of the most powerful space observation radars in the world, with a view to supporting the German Space Situational Awareness Center and the ESA with their re-entry forecasts.
Following the loss of radio contact with Tiangong-1 in 2016 and due to the low orbital height, it is now inevitable that the Chinese space station will...
Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP, provider of research and development services for OLED lighting solutions, announces the founding of the “OLED Licht Forum” and presents latest OLED design and lighting solutions during light+building, from March 18th – 23rd, 2018 in Frankfurt a.M./Germany, at booth no. F91 in Hall 4.0.
They are united in their passion for OLED (organic light emitting diodes) lighting with all of its unique facets and application possibilities. Thus experts in...
A new scenario seeking to explain how Mars' putative oceans came and went over the last 4 billion years implies that the oceans formed several hundred million...
For the first time, an interdisciplinary team from the University of Basel has succeeded in integrating artificial organelles into the cells of live zebrafish embryos. This innovative approach using artificial organelles as cellular implants offers new potential in treating a range of diseases, as the authors report in an article published in Nature Communications.
In the cells of higher organisms, organelles such as the nucleus or mitochondria perform a range of complex functions necessary for life. In the networks of...
Animal photoreceptors capture light with photopigments. Researchers from the University of Göttingen have now discovered that these photopigments fulfill an...
19.03.2018 | Event News
16.03.2018 | Event News
13.03.2018 | Event News
21.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy
21.03.2018 | Materials Sciences
21.03.2018 | Life Sciences