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The Guardian’s (ocean) circulation problem

Dr David Whitehouse
A review of the Guardian’s habitual Gulf Stream misreporting.

Is there no loyalty among climate extremists? The Guardian makes a mistake about the fundamental difference between the Gulf Stream and the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) and suddenly everyone is on its case, some accusing it of sloppy reporting, others demanding a correction of its fake news, (which didn’t come.) To be fair it wasn’t just the Guardian – the BBC, CNN and others also got it wrong.

The slowdown or possible collapse of Atlantic currents was everywhere on the internet. We are heading for a collapse, said CNN, Warming could push the Atlantic past a ‘tipping point’ said the New York Times, ‘near collapse, added the Washington Post. Is a mega ocean current about to close down, asked the Scientific American?

The Gulf Stream – which brings warm water to North West Europe – is not the same as the AMOC. They are two fundamentally different currents. Unless the Earth ceases to be a globe, ceases to have oceans and ceases to turn – something that even the Guardian hasn’t yet alarmed us about – the Gulf Stream will be with us.

The AMOC is important for climate because it is the large-scale overturning motion in the Atlantic. It has demonstrated instabilities in the past, especially during the last Ice Age due to large influxes of fresh water. It has weakened over at least the past 100 years, possibly the last thousand years. Some believe this weakening, or at least its most recent activity, is due to human influence, but that is mostly conjecture as we do not understand the decadal and centennial natural variability of the AMOC, let alone longer-term ocean cycles. Standard climate models maintain that the risk of the AMOC collapsing is small.

It’s not as though the Guardian hasn’t been fighting on the alarmist front using ocean currents many, many time before.

Last year it told us that we are on the brink, or may even have passed, five ‘disastrous’ tipping points; the collapse of Greenland’s ice cap, the melting of permafrost, changes to the great northern forests, the loss of mountain glaciers and of course, the collapse of the AMOC.

Two years ago the same journalist told us the same story … that ‘scientists had spotted warning signs of Gulf Stream collapse’ – again confusing the Gulf Stream with the AMOC.

The tipping points also make another appearance as they may have been crossed two years previously.

The same journalist got the Gulf Stream and the AMOC mixed up 2018, saying that the Gulf Stream was at its weakest in 1600 years. He added that it threw into question alarmist predictions of a looming catastrophic collapse as it would take centuries to occur. The Guardian claimed that it was now 15% weaker than it was around 400 AD, and humans were responsible for a significant part of that weakening.

The latest surge in the Guardian’s habitual Gulf Stream misreporting was based on two Danish researcher who announced a sharp weakening of ocean currents around the North Atlantic, predicting “a collapse of the AMOC to occur around mid-century under the current scenario of future emissions,” or even as soon as two year time.

This research was not based on climate models but based on so-called instability research in which a system, in this case the AMOC, exhibits instability and more variability just before it reaches a so-called tipping point and transitions to a new state.

Given the lack of understanding of its current dynamics and its past variability, the public would be well advised to take worst case predictions with a pinch of salt.