The Gulf Stream and the Next Ice Age

The Gulf Stream and the Next Ice Age

Nikolaus Koutsikas (2008)

Film Review

This documentary examines the climatic effects of the Gulf Stream, which was first charted and named by Benjamin Franklin in 1762. This is a powerful current that transports warm water from the Gulf of Mexico to the west coast of France, Britain and Norway. It’s thanks to the Gulf Stream (aka the North Atlantic Drift, aka the Thermohaline Conveyor) that western Europe enjoys far milder winters that parts of Canada at the same latitude.

Paleoclimatologists who collect ocean sediment and ice core samples have been studying past disruptions of the Thermohaline Conveyor going back 100,000 years. They’ve identified a clear pattern in which the Conveyor “turns off” in response to rapid warming periods that cause the Arctic and Greenland ice sheets to melt. This in turn has triggered mini ice ages in which all of northern Europe experiences Siberian winters.

The mechanism that causes the Conveyor to turn off is apparently triggered by the rapid influx of fresh water into the North Atlantic. Under normal conditions, the Conveyor is driven by sharp temperature differentials when abrupt Arctic cooling causes it to sink rapidly, sucking in warm water above it.

Fresh water behaves differently than salt water (it doesn’t sink). According to ice core records, rapid influxes of fresh water from ice melts repeatedly switched the Conveyor off and on until about 10,000 years.

Surprisingly the risk of the Conveyor “turning off” in response to global warming has received little attention in recent publicity about impending catastrophic climate disruption. Apparently the Pentagon takes it very seriously. In 2003, they issued a report about the threat a new European Ice Age poses to national security.

It’s impossible to predict exactly how much ice has to melt before the Conveyer shuts off. The 2003 Pentagon report predicted a worse case scenario in which it might shut off in 2010. Obviously this didn’t happen. However in 2008 when this film was made, scientists had already detected a slight decrease in salinity and a gradual slowing of the current.

Most climatologists feel the Conveyor is unlikely to shut off before the Arctic Ice cap melts. Some are predicting the Arctic will be ice free in summer by 2020.

Record cold winters in the North Atlantic suggest slowing of the Conveyor has already begun: What’s Going on in the North Atlantic

5 thoughts on “The Gulf Stream and the Next Ice Age

  1. Dr. Bramhall, thanks for sharing this video. A friend recently sent me an email warning that our problem was not global warming, but rather global cooling. It seems that my friend, and others like him, missed the part about the trigger: global warming. Climate change deniers have a way of distorting the issue to suit their ends.

    For the most part, we humans have failed to appreciate the intricate natural engines that make life possible on our planet. Extreme heat resulting in extreme cold sounds like the stuff of science fiction. The video demonstrates how this can become a reality.


  2. My understanding is that the main problem is catastrophic climate disruption. This translates into the melting of Greenland, the polar ice cap and Antarctica, more droughts in drought-prone areas, more hurricanes, tornadoes and cyclones, more flooding and extreme cold in areas normally warmed by the Thermohaline Conveyer


  3. Quote begins:

    If or when the overturning circulation slows, the results are unlikely to be dramatic. “No one is predicting another ice age as a result of changes in the Atlantic overturning,” said Willis. “Even if the overturning was the Godzilla of climate 12,000 years ago, the climate was much colder then. Models of today’s warmer conditions suggest that a slowdown would have a much smaller impact now.

    “But the Atlantic overturning circulation is still an important player in today’s climate,” Willis added. “Some have suggested cyclic changes in the overturning may be warming and cooling the whole North Atlantic over the course of several decades and affecting rainfall patterns across the United States and Africa, and even the number of hurricanes in the Atlantic.”

    With their ability to observe the Atlantic overturning at high latitudes, Willis said, satellite altimeters and the Argo array are an important complement to the mooring and ship-based measurements currently being used to monitor the overturning at lower latitudes. “Nobody imagined that this large-scale circulation could be captured by these global observing systems,” said Willis. “Their amazing precision allows us to detect subtle changes in the ocean that could have big impacts on climate.”

    Quote ends.


    Honestly, with CO2 being responsible for every climate event and non-event, both cooling and warming extremes, my head hurts. If there is nothing that CO2 doesn’t explains, its pure hokum.

    Climate variation has always been with us. There have been ice ages in the past, at regular intervals; which means that there have been periods of global warming in the past, at regular intervals, and furthermore, warmer by tens of degrees on average than anything we are witnessing now, and even in the time that polar bears have existed, and these creatures are still around. And the periodicities we are talking about, here, are in the tens of thousands of years. At the same time, there have been abrupt periods of cooling and warming, dramatic changes that people could observe over the course of single lifetimes. Have these phenomena ceased entirely? Is there no more natural climate variability, all change and every extreme now only attributable to an increase of CO2 in the atmosphere?

    If climate scientists could explain the “mechanics” of the paleolithic periodicities and take these into account, also subtracting out the extreme climate events that are known to have happened as statistical outliers to the cyclical norms, to which the film at hand itself attests, as noise in and from their data sets, then maybe they would be able to tell us something about the effects our CO2 is having on our planet if any. But they can’t, at least not yet. The science just isn’t there irrespective of what the bought and paid for consensus might be, bought and paid for to the tune of 99 cents of every dollar that has ever been spent on ‘climate science’ ( see, for example, Zbigniew Jaworowski, M.D., Ph.D., D.Sc., “The Sun, Not Man, Still Rules Our Climate,” 21st Century Science & Technology, Spring 2009, p.14.)*. Nobody yet has a measure of our influence on climate, certainly not on the scale of the planet.

    What for example, is the reason why ice ages in the past have come and gone at regularly spaced intervals? Knowing that it happened does not explain why it happened or why, given the regularity of events in the past, it most likely will happen again; if you can’t say why, you cannot claim to understand natural climate cycles on the scale of the planet, much less predict anything about the future, or the way in which CO2 will most probably affect those cycles. Without a grasp of what lies behind the cyclical nature of climate on periods of time that must be measured in the tens of thousands of years, you have nothing.


    By the year 2007, 99.96% of all funds spent on climate science research had gone to researchers either already convinced of the AGW hypothesis or overtly biased in its favour. To quote the relevant and revealing bit:

    “According to the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, during the past 10 years, promoters of the man-made global warming hypothesis received more than $50 billion in funding in the United States alone. On the other hand, the skeptics who doubt that this hypothesis is true, received only $19 million over the past 20 years from Exxon Mobile, i.e. 0.04 percent of what promoters gained in half that time (EPW 2007).” (Zbigniew Jaworowski, M.D., Ph.D., D.Sc., “The Sun, Not Man, Still Rules Our Climate,” 21st Century Science & Technology, Spring 2009, p.14.)

    Money is money, regardless of the source, and researchers, like everyone else, have to make a living. One should therefore expect that irrespective of the scientific validity or invalidity of the AGW hypothesis, regardless of whether it jibes with the ‘fact’ of the matter or not, the version deemed most propitious to advancing both the short- and long-term interests of the ruling elite will also be perceived to be the dominant ‘scientific consensus.’ For who pays the bills ultimately calls the tune.

    But ’nuff said.

    Even though we seem to be some distance apart on this, Stuart, I still love you.

    Kind regards,



    • Noman, if you haven’t done so already, you really should have a look at Under a Green Sky by paleontologist Peter Ward. He’s not a climate scientist, and I think he provides a really excellent explanation of the Thermohaline Conveyor Belt, as well as a coherent timeline of how alterations in CO2 concentrations have historically affected conveyor currents and variations in polar ice.

      I’m aware of Jaworowski’s work, and I think his efforts to tar climate scientists as the villains is quite misleading. Scientists from a range of disciplines came to agreement decades ago (long before Hanson raised the alarm about increasing CO2 concentrations) about the carbon cycle, the Thermohaline Conveyor Belt and related phenomena (eg trade winds, monsoons, etc). A lot of this is based on centuries of empirical observation (Ben Franklin is credited with first discovering the Gulf Stream).

      The other thing that troubles me about Jaworowski is that his publications didn’t really cover original research – they were mainly reviews of other scientists’ work or opinion pieces. His primary training was medical – he was a physician with a special interest in the effects of radiation and polar research. In contrast, the vast majority of the 1900 papers the IPCC base their consensus around concern original research, ie the scientists actually went out and measured something and formed conclusions based on their measurements. And they were paid for it – that’s how scientists make a living – from government and private grants. I imagine insurance companies lobbied for a lot of this research – they’re really taking a major hit everywhere due to catastrophic climate events.

      My sense is that most of the climate denial funding goes to lobbying and think tanks – very little of it goes to actual research. It’s extremely difficult to find credible scientists of any discipline willing to entertain premises at variance with empirical scientific principles.

      Exxon isn’t the only corporate interest funding climate denial activities by the way – the Koch brothers have also also invested nearly 80 million dollars ( in the last 20 years. Exxon spent nearly 31 million total between 1998 and 2014 (


      • I promise to follow up your leads and I’ll meditate on your reply.

        Merely an aside, however: interesting that you should mention the insurance industry in connection with the CO2 issue if only because Jim Steele also mentions that, if only in passing, in a short videotaped lecture I listened to a short while ago.

        To his mind, to put it briefly, it’s not so much “catastrophic climate events” that are causing that industry to take notice of CO2 emissions in a hemorrhage of payouts, as an industry that doesn’t want to live up to its contractual obligations (a completely unwarranted accusation, I know) and really piss poor urban planning and development, that is, the urbanization of flood plains or low-lying areas prone to flooding.

        At any rate, I’ll do the homework you have assigned me on this, as much as it will be somewhat grudgingly, given that already it is clear to me that ‘climate science’ is still a very much inchoate and rudimentary discipline, which is not to disparage the quality or sophistication of the minds that have taken up its challenge. It is just that a lot of issues have yet to be hammered out; a lot of questions still to be answered . . .




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