Turning and Turning In The Widening Gyre

Central Arctic ocean currents (map by Brn-Bld via Wikimedia Commons)
Central Arctic ocean currents (map by Brn-Bld via Wikimedia Commons)

“The Beaufort Gyre is acting strangely,” said the news at Yale Environment 360.  “Scientists say it could kick off a period of lower temperatures in Northern Europe.”

Here’s why.

The Beaufort Gyre is a wind-driven current in the Arctic Ocean. Traveling clockwise it keeps sea ice contained and moving so slowly that the ice thickens.

Every five to seven years the winds change direction and the gyre spins counter-clockwise, dumping icebergs and cold freshwater into the North Atlantic near Iceland.  Then the winds switch back.

But now the winds haven’t changed direction for a long time, arctic ice is melting, and freshwater from the continents is flooding the Beaufort Sea.  The surface now holds as much freshwater as the Great Lakes and the gyre is spinning faster, still clockwise.

What will happen next?  The past gives us a hint.

Thirty years ago, when the gyre reversed direction for an extra long time, its ice and cold freshwater caused the North Atlantic herring fisheries to collapse and plunged Northern Europe into a temporary deep freeze.

Will the Beaufort Gyre change direction soon? And how long it will spin counter-clockwise?  No one knows.  Will the change be benign? Probably not.

The globe is warming overall (hence it was called “Global Warming”) but the resulting climate change is both hot and cold, weird and unpredictable.

It’s a bit like watching chaos unfold.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world …
The Second Coming by W. B.Yeats

Read more about the Beaufort Gyre at Yale Environment 360.

(map of Arctic Ocean circulation by Zeimusu via Wikimedia Commons; click on the image to see the original)

2 thoughts on “Turning and Turning In The Widening Gyre

  1. “And what about climate change? We are rolling the dice with melting ice.”

    Just a line from piece I wrote for a class.

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