text-only page produced automatically by LIFT Text Transcoder Skip all navigation and go to page contentSkip top navigation and go to directorate navigationSkip top navigation and go to page navigation
National Science Foundation
News
design element
News
News From the Field
For the News Media
Special Reports
Research Overviews
NSF-Wide Investments
Speeches & Lectures
NSF Current Newsletter
Multimedia Gallery
News Archive
News by Research Area
Arctic & Antarctic
Astronomy & Space
Biology
Chemistry & Materials
Computing
Earth & Environment
Education
Engineering
Mathematics
Nanoscience
People & Society
Physics
 

Email this pagePrint this page


Press Release 11-168
Newly Discovered Icelandic Current Could Change Climate Picture

Current called North Icelandic Jet contributes to key component of ocean circulation

Image of the Northern Denmark Strait showing the newly discovered deep current.

Northern Denmark Strait showing newly discovered deep current, in relation to known pathway.
Credit and Larger Version

August 21, 2011

If you'd like to cool off fast in hot summer weather, take a dip in a newly discovered ocean current called the North Icelandic Jet (NIJ).

You'd need to be far, far below the sea's surface near Iceland, however, to reach it.

Scientists have confirmed the presence of the NIJ, a deep-ocean circulation system off Iceland. It could significantly influence the ocean's response to climate change.

The NIJ contributes to a key component of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), critically important for regulating Earth's climate.

As part of the planet's reciprocal relationship between ocean circulation and climate, the AMOC transports warm surface water to high latitudes where the water warms the air, then cools, sinks and returns toward the equator as a deep flow.

Crucial to this warm-to-cold oceanographic choreography is the Denmark Strait Overflow Water (DSOW), the largest of the deep, overflow plumes that feed the lower limb of the AMOC and return the dense water south through gaps in the Greenland-Scotland Ridge.

For years it has been thought that the primary source of the Denmark Overflow was a current adjacent to Greenland known as the East Greenland Current.

However, this view was recently called into question by two oceanographers from Iceland who discovered a deep current flowing southward along the continental slope of Iceland.

They named the current the North Icelandic Jet and hypothesized that it formed a significant part of the overflow water.

Now, in a paper published in the August 21st online issue of the journal Nature Geoscience, the team of researchers--including the two Icelanders who discovered the current--has confirmed that the Icelandic Jet is not only a major contributor to the DSOW but "is the primary source of the densest overflow water."

"We present the first comprehensive measurements of the NIJ," said Robert Pickart of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Instititution in Massachusetts, one of the co-authors of the paper.

"Our data demonstrate that the NIJ indeed carries overflow water into Denmark Strait and is distinct from the East Greenland Current. The NIJ constitutes approximately half of the total overflow transport and nearly all of the densest component."

The researchers used a numerical model to hypothesize where and how the NIJ is formed.

"These results implicate water mass transformation and exchange near Iceland as central contributors to the deep limb of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, and raise new questions about how global ocean circulation will respond to future climate change," said Eric Itsweire, program director in the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF)'s Division of Ocean Sciences, which funded the research.

"We've identified a new paradigm," Pickart said, likely a new, overturning loop of warm to cold water.

The results, Pickart says, have "important ramifications" for ocean circulation's impact on climate.

Scientists have been concerned that this overturning loop--some call it a conveyor belt--is slowing down due to a rise in global temperatures.

They suggest that increasing amounts of fresh water from melting ice and other warming-related phenomena are making their way into the northern North Atlantic, where it could freeze and decrease the need for the loop to deliver as much warm water as it does now.

Eventually, this could lead to a colder climate in the northern hemisphere.

While this scenario is far from certain, researchers need to understand the overturning process, Pickart said, to make accurate predictions about the future of climate and circulation interaction.

"If a large fraction of the overflow water comes from the NIJ, then we need to re-think how quickly the warm-to-cold conversion of the AMOC occurs, as well as how this process might be altered under a warming climate," said Pickart.

Pickart and a team of scientists from the U.S., Iceland, Norway, and the Netherlands are scheduled to embark on August 22nd on a cruise aboard the research vessel Knorr. They will collect new information on the overturning in the Iceland Sea.

"During our upcoming cruise we will deploy an array of year-long moorings across the entire Denmark Strait to quantify the NIJ and distinguish it from the East Greenland Current," Pickart said.

"Then we'll collect shipboard measurements in the Iceland Sea to the north of the mooring line to determine more precisely where and how the NIJ originates."

The cruise will be chronicled at the North Icelandic Jet Cruise website.

In addition to Pickart, authors of the Nature Geoscience paper include Michael Spall and Daniel Torres of WHOI; lead author Kjetil Våge, and co-authors Svein Østerhus and Tor Eldevik, all of the University of Bergen, Norway; and Héðinn Valdimarsson and Steingrímur Jónsson--the co-discoverers of the NIJ--of the Marine Research Institute in Reykjavik, Iceland.

The Research Council of Norway also funded the work.

-NSF-

Media Contacts
Cheryl Dybas, NSF, (703) 292-7734, cdybas@nsf.gov
Joel Greenberg, WHOI, (508) 289-3326, jgreenberg@whoi.edu

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2014, its budget is $7.2 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives about 50,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes about 11,500 new funding awards. NSF also awards about $593 million in professional and service contracts yearly.

 Get News Updates by Email 

Useful NSF Web Sites:
NSF Home Page: http://www.nsf.gov
NSF News: http://www.nsf.gov/news/
For the News Media: http://www.nsf.gov/news/newsroom.jsp
Science and Engineering Statistics: http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/
Awards Searches: http://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/

 

Image of the research vessel Knorr navigating the Iceland Sea.
The research vessel Knorr navigates the Iceland Sea while taking measurements of the Jet.
Credit and Larger Version

Image showing the North Icelandic Jet in cross-section.
The North Icelandic Jet in cross-section, adjacent to the continental slope of Iceland.
Credit and Larger Version

Image of scientists recovering an instrument package.
Scientists recover an instrument package used to measure dense water carried by the current.
Credit and Larger Version

Image of the research vessel Knorr in the fall/winter weather.
Research vessel Knorr in fall/winter weather that leads to formation of the dense water.
Credit and Larger Version

Image of buoyant spheres that hold moorings upright in the Icelandic Jet.
Buoyant spheres will hold moorings upright in the Jet during the upcoming expedition.
Credit and Larger Version



Email this pagePrint this page
Back to Top of page