Image courtesy of UNC
It's not often that you hear scientists cite the latest Hollywood fare as inspiration for their work. Yet Meric Srokosz of the Southampton Oceanographic Centre, explaining the purpose of the $31 million Rapid Watch system he is heading up, does just that, citing the plotline of "The Day After Tomorrow" - specifically the collapse of the Gulf Stream - as a potential occurrence that warrants further investigation. The Observer's Robin McKie lays out the relevant details:
Now while Srokosz doesn't actually believe that the Gulf Stream could collapse within the period of a few days - as suggested in the film - he doesn't put it beyond the pale that it could happen in "about 10 years." As McKie goes on to write, Rapid Watch will rely on underwater monitoring techniques to "check whether cold water pouring south from melting Arctic ice sheets is diverting the current's warm waters away from Britain."
"An armada of robot submarines and marine sensors are to be deployed across the Atlantic, from Florida to the Canary Islands, to provide early warning that the Gulf Stream might be failing, an event that would trigger cataclysmic freezing in Britain for decades."
The results of an initial study Srokosz and his colleagues carried out in 2004 suggested that the Gulf Stream "fluctuates in a highly unpredictable fashion." As such, he believes past measurements may not provide an ideal predictive indicator for what could happen in the near future; beginning later this year, Rapid Watch will monitor the Gulf Stream until 2014 with an armada of ocean-floor sensors - which will assess current flow, temperature and other variables - and robot gliders - which will monitor the current itself. This system shares many of the same features as the Hudson River environmental monitoring network we previously reported on.
The consequences of a freeze in the Gulf Stream could be drastic, as McKie outlines: "Without the Gulf Stream, the UK would be as cold as Canada in winter. Ports could freeze over and snowstorms and blizzards would paralyse the country."
Via ::Guardian Unlimited: Ocean floor sensors will warn of failing Gulf Stream (news website)