Reviewing the Gulf Stream in keeping Europe warm during Winter

Our long-held belief about the Gulf Stream's role in tempering Europe's winters may not be correct

Dr. Stephen Riser, professor of physical oceanography in the UW School of Oceanography, and Dr. Susan Lozier, professor of physical oceanography in the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University (who received her Ph. D. from the UW School of Oceanography advised by Dr. Riser), have written one of the featured articles in the February 2013 issue of Scientific American.

They review three recent climate studies (including a study co-authored by Professor Peter Rhines from UW Oceanography) which indicate that our long-held belief about the Gulf Stream's role in tempering Europe's winters may not be correct. Yet the studies themselves do not agree. Two of the three studies ascribe a surprisingly large role to the direction of the prevailing winds, and one focuses on the heat lost from the ocean.

Many climate models indicate that extensive melting of Arctic ice would not actually shut down the Gulf Stream, as previously thought. The ocean's influence on climate in Europe and elsewhere should become clearer within a decade, now that a global array of more than 3,000 floating ocean sensors called Argo is making near-real-time maps of temperature and salinity down to 2,000 meters.