Winter during summer, summer during winter…climate change is taking the world on a super roller coaster ride and what we have witnessed so far seems to be just the tip of the iceberg.

Researchers had earlier raised concerns over some warning signs which were occurring due to global heating and the effects this was having on the entire planet.

True to their observations, the world is now faced with the risk of AMOC shutting down after 12,000 years, an event scientists say, must not be allowed to happen. The outcome would simply be unimaginably terrifying.

The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has reached its weakest point in the last 1600 years and experts’ latest forecasts predict that it is going to plummet to ruinous levels.

If you have watched the film The Day After Tomorrow you have seen first-hand the type of devastation a rapid AMOC shutdown would bestow upon mankind and while the film is severely hyperbolized, reality would not be too far from what is portrayed therein.

Perhaps the most worrying part of all this is the fact that even the top experts and scientists in the world did not expect the destabilization signs that foreshadow the AMOC collapse, this soon.

In an impending crisis such as this one, the ideal scenario would be that experts are ahead of the problem and are already looking at solutions.

Niklas Boers from the Potsdam Institute of Climate Impact Research based in Germany was reported as saying, “The signs of destabilisation being visible already is something that I wouldn’t have expected and that I find scary.”

This was two years ago. A lot has changed since then and not for the better, unfortunately.

AMOC workings for beginners

The simplest way to describe the AMOC is that it is a world-size conveyor belt.

It is basically an intricate system of ocean currents which are primarily driven by the salt content in the water as well as the variations in the ocean water temperatures.

This conveyor belt does the important work of distributing heat in the Atlantic Ocean by allowing warm waters to flow north and cool waters to flow south.

There is evaporation which occurs when warm waters flow north leading to an increase in the amount of salt in the water. High salt content and lower temperature increase water density causing it to sink towards the ocean floor.

The water that sinks to the ocean floors is in the end pulled back up to the surface and it warms up through the process of upwelling. This marks a full cycle of the conveyor belt.

While the collapse is largely being blamed on global warming due to human activities that release CO2 into the air, some of it can be attributed to natural changes in the earth’s climatic system.

The biggest concerns for climate experts are the tipping points that lead to drastic and irreversible changes in the world climate, at the centre of which is the Greenland ice sheet.

Situated in the centre of the North Atlantic and continuously pouring in, on average, 250 billion metric tons of ice into the ocean per annum, it is likely to disturb the flow of AMOC.

It is important to note that as the planet warms, the ice is melting faster and increasing the cold dump in the ocean. The threshold of no return is gradually drawing closer.

Additionally, studies have now revealed that the Amazon forest is currently emitting more CO2 than it is taking in. Also unsurprisingly, the Siberian heat wave saw extreme levels of methane released into the atmosphere.

All this is happening at a time when scientists warn that literally, every gram of CO2 we add into the atmosphere brings us closer to the collapse.

What are the potential dreadful outcomes?

Scientists are not exactly in consensus over the issue of the impending collapse of the earth’s conveyor belt. Some in fact think that the climate modelling that has led to this conclusion is drastically oversimplified and that several other outcomes are still very possible.

The one thing that experts do not disagree on, however, is the consequences that a collapse would mete out on humanity. They would be cataclysmic.

The global process enabled by the AMOC is largely responsible for the climate we enjoy on the planet today. AMOC affects flooding, drought patterns, disease, migration patterns and so much more.

A collapse would precipitate sudden cooling in huge areas of the Northern hemisphere and sharp shifts in tropical rainfall patterns.

Furthermore, the North Atlantic Ocean would experience non-linear shifts in the rise in mean sea levels. All of these are the most undesirable outcomes anyone can think of for the planet.

The planet remains unprepared

The world is not ready for the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation system to collapse. There seems to be way too many unknowns in the equation and this further makes it difficult for scientists to predict with any form of certainty when exactly this event may occur or if at all.

Firstly, experts cannot provide a time frame to allow concerned agencies to take any immediate actions of note. The best we can do now is simply to reduce emissions of CO2 to as low as possible.

The inability of climate experts to predict future global heating levels is another challenge that stands in the way of a more pointed prediction of ‘the when’ factor.

Also on the list of unknowns is the level of CO2 the earth’s atmosphere has to reach before there is a trigger and the AMOC collapses.

Nobody has a definitive answer about where on the arc of time and temperature the tipping point lies. There are educated speculations but they remain just that – speculations.

With all these unknowns our experts are groping in the dark and it is no wonder they disagree about what may or may not happen.

Perhaps the rational way to look at it is that if it has happened before, it can happen again and governments all over the world should begin to have earnest conversations about the worst-case scenario and the planet’s readiness plan.

Cover photo courtesy of Pexels/Kristina Gain