Palaeoclimate data shows that the ocean's currents (like the Gulf Stream and its North Atlantic deep water partner) are capable of shifting gears very suddenly, but until now it wasn't clear how this occurred. Using a combination of modern observations, numerical models and palaeoclimate data scientists are increasingly realising that salt is the key.
Their results reveal that a build up of salty water can stimulate deep water circulation, while a diluting of the waters is linked to sluggish flow. "Salt plays a far more important role that we first thought," says Professor Rainer Zahn, a palaeoclimatologist at the Autonomous University of Barcelona in Spain.
Salt increases the density of water. Once a pocket of water becomes salty enough it sinks, drawing in additional water from surrounding areas, and initiates an ocean circulation loop called thermohaline overturning.
The scientists discovered that a build up of salt in the waters off the coast of South Africa could help to speed up ocean circulation in the North Atlantic, despite the two areas being thousands of kilometres apart. "A salt surge is enough to kick start circulation," says Zahn. Meanwhile, a decrease in saltiness in South African waters could be linked to a slowing down of the North Atlantic circulation.
Models and data both indicate that these changes in ocean circulation occur over very short time-scales, usually in less than a decade or two. Ocean water can't possibly travel this fast (it takes nearly a century for a parcel of water to move from the South Atlantic to the North Atlantic). Instead the scientists think that energy is transferred through the ocean along a deep pressure wave. "The surge of salt generates a pressure gradient in the ocean that sends energy to the north without water actually being transported," explains Zahn.
Regardless of whether ocean circulation speeds up or slows down it causes significant climate change, altering the hydrological cycle and affecting atmospheric circulation patterns too.
Currently there is no large-scale salt monitoring system in place in the southern hemisphere oceans. Zahn thinks that regular measurements taken in the waters around South Africa and New Zealand could be useful. "It could act as an early warning system for climate changes 10-20 years down the road," he says.
The work was presented at the Ocean Controls in Abrupt Climate Change conference, held at the University of Innsbruck Conference Centre in Obergurgl, Ötz Valley, Austria on 19-24 May 2007. The conference, which was attended by an international consortium of over 70 marine scientists and climate experts, was one of the series of research conferences organised by the ESF Research Conferences Scheme.
Thomas Lau | alfa
In times of climate change: What a lake’s colour can tell about its condition
21.09.2017 | Leibniz-Institut für Gewässerökologie und Binnenfischerei (IGB)
Did marine sponges trigger the ‘Cambrian explosion’ through ‘ecosystem engineering’?
21.09.2017 | Helmholtz-Zentrum Potsdam - Deutsches GeoForschungsZentrum GFZ
Plants and algae use the enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass. Algae have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of carbon fixation. They gather most of their Rubisco into a ball-shaped microcompartment called the pyrenoid, which they flood with a high local concentration of carbon dioxide. A team of scientists at Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University and the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry have unravelled the mysteries of how the pyrenoid is assembled. These insights can help to engineer crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing more food.
A warming planet
Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.
The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...
Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...
Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!
When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...
For the first time, physicists have successfully imaged spiral magnetic ordering in a multiferroic material. These materials are considered highly promising candidates for future data storage media. The researchers were able to prove their findings using unique quantum sensors that were developed at Basel University and that can analyze electromagnetic fields on the nanometer scale. The results – obtained by scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, the University of Montpellier and several laboratories from University Paris-Saclay – were recently published in the journal Nature.
Multiferroics are materials that simultaneously react to electric and magnetic fields. These two properties are rarely found together, and their combined...
19.09.2017 | Event News
12.09.2017 | Event News
06.09.2017 | Event News
22.09.2017 | Life Sciences
22.09.2017 | Medical Engineering
22.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy