The Gulf Stream and Britain's climate.

Just how much of an effect on Britain’s climate does the Gulf Stream have? Everybody seems to “know” that, without the Gulf Stream, Britain would have the same climate as northern Canada, or some variation thereof.

However, this guy, who appears to be no crank, Columbia’s hardly a local polytechnic, is claiming otherwise. He’s even got a published paper in what looks like a reputable journal backing his claims.

His claim is that the Gulf Stream weakening will only have a slight cooling effect, not the disastrous effect that it’s portrayed as having in the media.

What is the opinion of other professional climatologists and oceanographers on this? Is this a controversy in these fields, or is there some concensus as to what may happen?


It’s been a while since I studied oceanography (1997), but at the time there was discussion of the Gulf Stream’s effect and the potential that a massive inflow of freshwater from melting Greenland ice would slow or stop the Gulf Stream’s present course. It was viewed as an interesting possibility, but nothing on the scale of the disaster pictured in the movie The Day After Tomorrow, which is just a silly extreme.

It seems indisputable to me that some heat is transported by the Gulf Stream to the northeast Atlantic, but I’m not really in a position to dispute anyone who can back up a claim that it is a small amount of heat relative to that transported atmospherically. Although water has a much higher heat capacity, the flow of air is many orders of magnitude faster, which may account for some of the difference.

You asked about controversy, and I didn’t really get the message that there was much controversy at the time (that may have changed), but there was a feeling that the probability of catastrophic changes in the Gulf Stream was a tiny, but extant probability. The probability of moderate but unfortunate changes in the Gulf Stream was a much larger probability, and the probability of something we couldn’t predict but that would disrupt the pattern of temperatures and weather that we’re used to in the northeast Atlantic was a high probability.

Maybe someone with more up-to-date information will come along and help us out (read: correct me) shortly. :slight_smile:

A recent thread with some more info:

The UK spans the range of latitudes in which can be found St Petersburg, Oslo and Moscow; places that do not have the gulf stream and where it gets considerably colder in winter. How much of this is directly due to the gulf stream, I’m not sure.