• One of the key drivers of the world’s climate is an area in the North Atlantic Ocean, where warmer and colder water mix and swirl.
  • When scientists went for their first close look at this critical underwater dynamo, they found they were looking in the wrong place. By hundreds of miles.
  • The consequences are not quite yet understood, but eventually it could change forecasts of one of the worst-case global warming scenarios still considered unlikely this century, in which the mixing stops and climate chaos ensues.
  • It’s called the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, and scientists describe it as a giant ocean conveyor belt that moves water from Greenland south to beyond the tip of Africa and into the Indian Ocean.
  • Warm, salty water near the surface moves north and mixes with cold, fresher water near Greenland.
  • As that water cools and sinks it drives a slow circulation of the oceans that is critical to global climate, affecting the location of droughts and frequency of hurricanes.
  • It also stores heat-trapping carbon dioxide deep in the ocean.
  • The faster it moves, the more warm water gets sent into the depths to cool.
  • The area where warm water turns over in the North Atlantic is considered to be the engine of the conveyor belt.
  • Scientists thought it was in the Labrador Sea west of Greenland.
  • But then a new international science team measured temperature, saltiness and the speed of ocean currents throughout the North Atlantic to try to better understand the conveyor belt.
  • The preliminary results after hundreds of measurements in 21 months found that engine was several hundreds of miles east of where they figured
  • The computer simulations that predict how the climate could change in coming years didn’t factor in exactly where the conveyor belt engine is, and now they may be able to.