Chilling Forecast: Scientists Predict a Collapse of the Atlantic Ocean Current

Global Conveyor Belt

The global conveyor belt, shown in part here, circulates cool subsurface water and warm surface water throughout the world. The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation is part of this complex system of global ocean currents. Credit: NOAA

Important ocean currents that redistribute heat, cold, and precipitation between the tropics and the northernmost parts of the Atlantic region will shut down around the year 2060 if current greenhouse gas emissions persist. This is the conclusion based on new calculations from the University of Copenhagen that contradict the latest report from the IPCC.

Contrary to what we may imagine about the impact of climate change in Europe, a colder future may be in store. In a new study, researchers from the University of Copenhagen’s Niels Bohr Institute and Department of Mathematical Sciences predict that the system of ocean currents that currently distributes cold and heat between the North Atlantic region and tropics will completely stop if we continue to emit the same levels of greenhouse gases as we do today.

Using advanced statistical tools and ocean temperature data from the last 150 years, the researchers calculated that the ocean current, known as the Thermohaline Circulation or the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), will collapse – with 95 percent certainty – between 2025 and 2095. This will most likely occur in 34 years, in 2057, and could result in major challenges, particularly warming in the tropics and increased storminess in the North Atlantic region.

“Shutting down the AMOC can have very serious consequences for Earth’s climate, for example, by changing how heat and precipitation are distributed globally. While a cooling of Europe may seem less severe as the globe as a whole becomes warmer and heat waves occur more frequently, this shutdown will contribute to increased warming of the tropics, where rising temperatures have already given rise to challenging living conditions,” says Professor Peter Ditlevsen from the Niels Bohr Institute.

“Our result underscores the importance of reducing global greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible,” says the researcher.

The calculations, just published in the renowned scientific journal, Nature Communications, contradict the message of the latest IPCC report, which, based on climate model simulations, considers an abrupt change in the thermohaline circulation very unlikely during this century.

Early warning signals present

The researchers’ prediction is based on observations of early warning signals that ocean currents exhibit as they become unstable. These Early Warning Signals for the Thermohaline Circulation have been reported previously, but only now has the development of advanced statistical methods made it possible to predict just when a collapse will occur.

The researchers analyzed sea surface temperatures in a specific area of the North Atlantic from 1870 to the present day. These sea surface temperatures are “fingerprints” testifying to the strength of the AMOC, which has only been measured directly for the past 15 years.

“Using new and improved statistical tools, we’ve made calculations that provide a more robust estimate of when a collapse of the Thermohaline Circulation is most likely to occur, something we had not been able to do before,” explains Professor Susanne Ditlevsen of UCPH’s Department of Mathematical Sciences.

The thermohaline circulation has operated in its present mode since the last ice age, where the circulation was indeed collapsed. Abrupt climate jumps between the present state of the AMOC and the collapsed state has been observed to happen 25 times in connection with ice-age climate. These are the famed Dansgaard-Oeschger events first observed in ice cores from the Greenlandic ice sheet. At those events, climate changes were extreme with 10-15 degrees changes over a decade, while present day climate change is 1.5 degrees warming over a century.


  • The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) is part of a global system of ocean currents. By far, it accounts for the most significant part of heat redistribution from the tropics to the northernmost regions of the Atlantic region – not least to Western Europe.
  • At the northernmost latitudes, circulation ensures that surface water is converted into deep, southbound ocean currents. The transformation creates space for additional surface water to be moved northward from equatorial regions. As such, thermohaline circulation is critical for maintaining the relatively mild climate of the North Atlantic region.
  • The work is supported by TiPES, a joint-European research collaboration focused on tipping points of the climate system. The TiPES project is an EU Horizon 2020 interdisciplinary climate research project focused on tipping points in the climate system.

Reference: “Warning of a forthcoming collapse of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation” by Peter Ditlevsen and Susanne Ditlevsen, 25 July 2023, Nature Communications.
DOI: 10.1038/s41467-023-39810-w

The work is supported by TiPES, a joint-European research collaboration focused on tipping points of the climate system. The TiPES project is an EU Horizon 2020 interdisciplinary climate research project focused on tipping points in the climate system.

Furthermore, funding was provided by Novo Nordisk Foundation; and European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement, “Economic Policy in Complex Environments (EPOC).

11 Comments on "Chilling Forecast: Scientists Predict a Collapse of the Atlantic Ocean Current"

  1. Clyde Spencer | July 29, 2023 at 7:38 pm | Reply

    “This will most likely occur in 34 years, …”

    This is a pretty safe bet because few people reading this will still be around in 34 years, or if they are, even remember the prediction.

    The last time this happened, it was apparently because of large influxes of freshwater from glacial lakes in North America. We don’t have similar conditions today, so it is a bold prediction considering that they don’t have an analogue to base their predictions on.

    • Hottan Bothred | July 29, 2023 at 9:12 pm | Reply

      A good point, but I’ll remind you “by 2095”.

      Wikipedia has an article worth checking, “List of dates predicted for apocalyptic events”. There’s many entries for all the armageddons that happened just the past decade, predictions from Rasputin to Reddit. The most relevant are two for 2026, including famed physicist Heinz von Foerster’s 1960 prediction published in Science magazine for humanity’s extinction due to overpopulation by 2026. The climate change claims are so frequent they get their own pious page, and there are lists online, like how the doomsday deadline in Inconvenient Truth passed 7 years ago. Some people will remember Nature & TiPES, as anecdotes anyway. But this time will be different, so repent!

  2. Are these “scientists” the same morons that have brought us climate change?

  3. As with all computer models and statistical tools, one rule always applies:- If you put garbage in, you get garbage out. The IPCC knows all about that with it’s many many computer models that just don’t work.

    • The WHO also knows all about this with their doomsday COVID computer models that were used to effectively shut down the global economy. How did that work out for humanity at large?

  4. Vince Caporale | July 31, 2023 at 8:15 am | Reply

    I’m glad I live 10 miles inland from the Florida coast!

  5. I saw that movie also. I also saw John Kerry say in 2009 “That in 5 years there would be no polar ice cap”. I grew up hearing all the B.S. about one thing or another that was going to end the world. Another Ice Age, Acid rain, no more clean water, global warming, climate change, and now “the Atlantic current” is going to collapse. And yet, we are still rolling on. This is nothing but another way to steal money from all us common folk and give it to the elite.

    • Don’t forget the ozone layer was going to disappear. I’m old enough to remember magazine covers and TV shows about how global COOLING was going to end life as we knew it. The great thing about being in the doomsday forecasting business is that there are plenty of suckers ready to eat up whatever you serve with a spoon and beg for seconds.

  6. Aww if it weren’t for the simple minded their would be no laughter or food, oh that’s right the grocery store has food. Why are insurance companies not covering your home, oh that’s right can’t move it out of harm’s way. by the way when do we move to the new planet. 100 years or a thousand the time will come.

  7. Betsy Huntington | August 20, 2023 at 7:03 pm | Reply

    Yes there are people who push the envelop trying to get your attention. It’s obviously not working. So very sorry for planet earth. Perhaps humans extinct themselves and the earth can right itself without our hubristic help.

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