Ocean currents are speeding up faster than scientists predicted

Taylor Watson

Global ocean currents are speeding up more rapidly than scientists had anticipated — in part due to climate change, per a paper published Wednesday in Science Advances.

The trend is "much greater than the natural variability," the paper states. Due largely to faster surface winds, 76 percent of the top 2,000 meters of Earth's oceans show an increase in intensity of circulation, based on data from the past two decades.

Surging winds are a predicted symptom of climate change, but such an increase wasn't expected to happen until closer to the end of the century, reports The Washington Post. "This suggests the Earth might actually be more sensitive to climate change than our simulations can currently show," Michael McPhaden, an author of the paper and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researcher, told the Post.

Accelerated ocean currents may affect jet streams, weather patterns, and the amount of heat stored in the ocean's depths, reports Science magazine.

While the paper presents a "really huge increase" in acceleration, more research is needed to be certain the quickening is due to climate change, Susan Wijffels, oceanographer at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, told Science magazine. "This paper does highlight how ill prepared we are to truly diagnose what's going on."

The paper calls for a more thorough monitoring of global ocean circulation to bring more clarity.

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