NERC is to provide continued support for the research programme that provides a detection system for climate changes in the Atlantic Ocean. A new programme, RAPID-WATCH, will build on the work of the Rapid Climate Change (RAPID) project, so that observations in the Atlantic will continue until 2014. This will result in a valuable ten year data set of direct measurements.
Schematic of the North Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation ©
BODC and the British Atmospheric Data Centre (BADC) have provided data management services during the lifetime of the RAPID programme. This will continue under RAPID-WATCH.
The aims of RAPID were to investigate and understand the causes of rapid climate change, with a main (but not exclusive) focus on the role of the Atlantic Ocean thermohaline circulation. A principle objective was the development of a monitoring system that would continuously observe the strength and structure of the Atlantic Ocean's Meridional Overturning Circulation (MOC).
Early results from the RAPID MOC monitoring array have demonstrated that continuous monitoring can accurately measure the changes in the MOC on time scales of days to years. RAPID-WATCH aims to deliver a decade-long time series of the strength and structure of the MOC. These observations, together with other research and data will be used to discover and understand changes in the Atlantic MOC. This will allow an improved assessment of the risk of rapid climate change.
What is MOC?
There is a northward transport of heat throughout the Atlantic Ocean reaching a maximum around 24.5°N. This heat transport is a balance of the northward flux of a warm Gulf Stream and a southward flux of cooler thermocline and cold North Atlantic deep water. This is known as the Meridional Overturning Circulation (MOC).
Warming by the MOC means that northwest Europe enjoys a mild climate for its latitude. However, climate models and paleoclimate records have indicated that an abrupt rearrangement of the Atlantic Circulation may cause a 5-10 °C cooling of European climate.