Dec. 30 (UPI) -- There is a 15 percent chance the North Atlantic Current, a major ocean current bringing warm water from the Gulf of Mexico to Europe, is disrupted during the next 100 years.
According to a new study, the current is unlikely to come to a complete stop -- contrary to previous speculation.
To better understand the impacts of Greenland melt water and precipitation variability on the North Atlantic Current, scientists at University of Groningen and Utrecht University developed a new model.
Previous studies have suggested ocean currents are influenced by the amount of freshwater being added to the ocean surface. As climate change has accelerated the melting of Greenland glaciers, the North Atlantic has experienced an increase in freshwater inputs.
Scientists have previously estimated the increase in Greenland melt water could slow, halt or even reverse the North Atlantic Current.
This isn't the first time scientists have attempted to model the effects of freshwater on ocean currents.
"Both high-resolution models, based on the equations describing fluid flows, and highly simplified box models have been used," Fred Wubs, a professor of numerical mathematics at the University of Groningen, said in a news release. "Our colleagues in Utrecht created a box model that describes present-day large-scale processes in the ocean rather well."
Wubs and his colleagues designed their new model to better predict the influence of small changes in freshwater on larger ocean processes. The results of their simulations, described this week in the journal Scientific Reports, suggest small shifts in the amount of freshwater being delivered to the ocean surface can have surprisingly large impacts on ocean currents.
To determine the chance of a rare event like the stoppage or reversal of the North Atlantic Current, scientists would typically have to generate thousands of simulations. But the researchers used a method developed by a French scientists for selecting only the most promising simulations.
"These simulations showed that the chances of a total collapse of the North Atlantic Current within the next thousand years are negligible," said Wubs.
But while scientists found extremely low odds of a total stop or reversal, the simulations showed a decent chance melt water and precipitation variability could combine to temporarily disrupt the flow of warm water from the Gulf to Europe.
"In our simulations, the chances of this happening in the next 100 years are 15 percent," Wubs said.
A disruption of the North Atlantic Current would increase the odds of cold spells in Europe.