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Scientific research. Antarctica’s sea currents may slow down. With them, life in the oceans will stop

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Antarctic sea currents could slow down over the next decades, a new study shows. The warming climate disturbs the melting of the continent’s ice cover, which affects the movement of cool, well-oxygenated water at the bottom of the ocean. Its slowdown could have catastrophic effects on marine ecosystems.

Billions of tons of salty, well-oxygenated and nutrient-rich water enter the Antarctic Ocean every year. They sink to the bottom off the coast of the continent and flow north across the world’s oceans, stirring up organic particles deposited at the bottom along the way and delivering them to the shallower layers of the ocean. Ocean currents influence climate, sea levels and the productivity of marine ecosystems.

The deep ocean current around Antarctica has been relatively stable for thousands of years. However, a study published on Wednesday in Nature warns that climate change may significantly slow down its course, and thus disturb the balance of life in the oceans.

Trapped nutrients

A team of scientists from the United States and Australia modeled the condition of Antarctic deep waters, taking into account the ‘high emission scenario’ envisaged by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) until 2050. The model took into account the details of the processes taking place in the ocean, including how the melting of the ice sheet can affect the circulation of water.

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The results showed that the increased melting of ice around Antarctica will make ocean waters sweeter, making it harder for salty, cold water to sink to the ocean floor. The circulation will become slower and weaker until it finally stops.

“Our modeling shows that if global carbon dioxide emissions continue at current levels, the Antarctic current will slow by more than 40 percent over the next 30 years, and the situation will be heading towards stagnation,” said Matthew England of the University of New South Wales, lead author. tests.

PAP/Reuters/Adam Ziemienowicz

The system of connected vessels

The researchers add that a loss of circulation would trap nutrients in the depths, reducing the amount available to marine life in the shallower parts of the ocean.

“Such profound changes in the circulation of heat, fresh water, oxygen, carbon and nutrients will have negative impacts on the oceans for centuries to come,” added England.

Study co-author Steve Rintoul of the Australian Center for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIRO) noted that the simulations show a slowdown in water circulation leading to rapid warming of the deep ocean. “Direct measurements confirm that deep ocean warming is indeed already underway,” he said. The melting of the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets is expected to continue to accelerate as the planet warms.

Adam Ziemienowicz/PAP/Reuters

Main photo source: Shutterstock

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