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The Gulf Stream Goes Vertical

Enlarge Image credit: F. Araki and S. Kawahara, ESC JAMSTEC MORE IMAGES

A new study finds that the warm Atlantic Ocean current known as the Gulf Stream could influence the climate of remote regions by pumping heat high into the atmosphere above it. The powerful current, which flows up from the Gulf of Mexico along the U.S. east coast and across the Atlantic to western Europe, is known to influence the formation of cyclones and clouds as well as to moderate the climates of the regions it touches. But Japanese researchers wondered if it had further-reaching effects. Combining high-resolution satellite data with water analyses, they discovered a pattern of airflow that reaches seven miles (10 kilometers) high, well into the upper part of the troposphere, the lowest and most massive layer of Earth's atmosphere. Winds blow toward the warm Gulf Stream from the colder waters on its western edge, causing a warm updraft and a consequent narrow rainy region along the current. The upward airflow (depicted in this image as vertical streaks) generates clouds in the upper troposphere that branch out and travel toward Europe. Reporting in Nature, the researchers note that this pattern suggests a way that the Gulf Stream might influence both local and distant climatesgood to know in case global warming hits the brakes on the current as it is expected to do.

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