A new study, co-authored by Zhengyu Liu, professor of atmospheric and oceanic science at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, shows Earth’s oceanic conveyor belt, the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), could collapse as carbon dioxide levels rise and lead to abrupt climate change.
The study, led by Liu’s former graduate student, Wei Liu (no relation), was published on Jan. 4, 2017 in Science Advances. The collapse would occur about 300 years after Earth’s carbon dioxide levels double compared to 1990 levels.
The AMOC is responsible for the circulation of Earth’s warm tropical waters to its poles, influencing ice sheets and weather in coastal regions of the world. Zhengyu explains that about 10 years ago, scientists began to realize the stability of AMOC, based on observations from sensors throughout the Atlantic Ocean, did not fit with predictions by existing climate models.