Dewey Droppe was having the time of his life as stormy winds hurled him across the Midwest. With trillions of his buddies Dewey wreaked havoc on Louisville in a deluge that caused extensive flooding during the wettest February ever recorded. Then it was down the storm drain and out into the raging Ohio River. Dewey washed down the Mississippi and spilled into the Gulf of Mexico. What a ride!
Lounging there for a few days, Dewey waited to get picked up by the Gulf Stream when the excitement would begin again. Sure enough, a few days later he felt that tentative tug and was drawn toward the current. “Oh boy! Now for a speedy ride around Florida, up the Eastern Seaboard, and into the icy climes of the Arctic Ocean,” he mused.
But after a day or so, Dewey knew something was wrong; he was barely moving at all. The anticipated rush of droplets all jostling ahead of one another was more like a molasses slick languidly lolling toward the Florida coast.
“What’s going on?” Dewey wondered when suddenly… SWOOSH! Without warning, Dewey was scooped aboard a passing ship, ogled under a microscope, and shelved inside a beaker. Even more strange, as chance would have it, the crew members were asking themselves that very same question – why was this normally swift current moving so slowly?
The oceanographers aboard this research vessel were investigating the mysteriously slowing North Atlantic Current and wondering if it had anything to do with extreme weather events like the recent Louisville storms. Dewey learned that the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) is the “conveyor belt” of the ocean that exchanges warm equatorial water with cold water from the Arctic. But today this temperature exchange is happening at a lower rate than any time in the past few thousand years most likely because of the torrent of fresh water melting off the Greenland ice sheet. If the slowing continues and reaches a tipping point, the AMOC could simply shut down with potentially dramatic and unwelcome changes in the climate.
“So this lazy current and the increase of extreme weather events ARE connected! A warming atmosphere accelerates both of them,” Dewey realized. “Seems like these humans could save themselves a lot of grief by taking action to slow that warming. After all, this is their only home where they’re forever…Earthbound.”