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Is the ocean collapsing?

Yesterday, scientists predicted that the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), or the Atlantic Ocean’s circulation system, could collapse as soon as 2025. But what is the AMOC, and why is it so important? And why is it in danger?

The AMOC essentially acts as a transportation system that takes cold water from the North Atlantic to the warmer waters of the South and vice versa. This system helps to carry nutrients and warmth to parts of the Atlantic that might otherwise not get them and sustains large amounts of wildlife. Now, with glaciers and arctic ice melting, there is an influx of cold water disrupting the AMOC. This has led to increased instability and has considerably weakened AMOC to its lowest point in the past thousand years.

Birds flying over strong waves on a cloudy day

Some scientists, including those on the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, doubt the study’s timeframe, however, arguing that the AMOC is not in danger of fully collapsing until after 2100. Others claim that the study does not take into account the entire Atlantic Ocean and doesn’t fully factor in the number of uncertainties surrounding the AMOC.

Still, even a partial collapse could harm millions and enact great environmental change. It would lead to more destructive storms on the East Coast, colder temperatures in the North Atlantic, and warmer temperatures in the tropics. Combining that with our already changing climate could mean greater disaster.

But is our ocean really collapsing? The AMOC is, without a doubt, unstable and may collapse sometime soon. The time of collapse and whether that collapse is full or only partial remains to be seen. Either way, the AMOC is in danger, and we need to protect it.

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