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Friday, September 11, 2009

Gulf Stream slows down and sea levels rise two feet higher than predicted this summer in U.S. East

Sea levels rose two feet higher than predicted this summer in U.S. East

Brian Handwerk, for National Geographic News, September 10, 2009

Sea levels rose as much as 2 feet (60 cm) higher than predicted this summer along the U.S. East Coast, surprising scientists who forecast such periodic fluctuations.

(Related: "New York, Boston 'Directly in Path' of Sea Level Rise.")

The immediate cause of the unexpected rise has now been solved, U.S. officials say in a new report. But the underlying reason remains a mystery.

Usually, predicting seasonal tides and sea levels is a pretty cut-and-dried process, governed by the known movements and gravitational influences of astronomical bodies like the moon, said Rich Edwing, deputy director for the Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

But NOAA's phones began ringing this summer when East Coast residents reported higher than predicted water levels, much like those associated with short-term weather events like tropical storms. But these high seas persisted for weeks, throughout June and July.

The startling rise caused only minor coastal flooding—but major head scratching among scientists.

Gulf Stream Mysteriously Slowed

Now a new report has identified the two major factors behind the high sea levels—a weakened Gulf Stream and steady winds from the northeastern Atlantic.

The Gulf Stream is a northward-flowing superhighway of ocean water off the U.S. East Coast. Running at full steam, the powerful current pulls water into its "orbit" and away from the East Coast.

But this summer, for reasons unknown, "the Gulf Stream slowed down," Edwing said, sending water toward the coasts—and sea levels shooting upward.

Adding to the sustained surge, autumn winds from the northeastern Atlantic arrived a few months early, pushing even more water coastward.

Beaches "Eaten Up"

The higher waters caused inconveniences for some anglers and boaters and rearranged a bit of shoreline.

"A couple of sand beaches we'd normally fish from were eaten up. And the volume of water was higher than it normally would be," said Paulie Apostolides, owner of Paulie's Tackle in Montauk (map) on New York State's Long Island.

Even before the new report, released by NOAA on September 2, 2009, Apostolides said many local fishers had already attributed the sea level rise to the "ferocious" winds from the northeast.

But the underlying puzzle remains.

"Why did the Gulf Stream slow down? Why did the fall wind pattern appear earlier?" NOAA's Edwing said. "We don't have those answers."



Anonymous said...

didnt i see somewhere that when enough fresh water enters the atlantic ocean it causes the gulf stream to stop , causing a major ice age within 10 yrs . does this have anything to do with that current off california ? that has been starting late by days for the first time since 1960 something or longer . t he birds they moniter have hatched within a day or 2 every year but now they are dying cause the current that creates food is 2 weeks off . maybe im a freek for remembering these articles but maybe some need to see the bigger picture

Tenney Naumer said...

I think you are referring to the ancient days of the Laurentide Ice Sheet which covered a large part of North America. When temperatures increased due to Milanovich effects, an absolutely enormous melt water lake was formed. Eventually, it broke out and spilled into the North Atlantic, causing the current to shut down. It seems doubtful that the melt water from Greenland could do the same, although it may alter it somewhat.

Unfortunately, I have not seen similar research published about the currents in the northeastern Pacific. There are a lot of things going on there with increasing dead zones and warmer temperatures. The Pacific Decadal Oscillation probably also has a large effect. I have read that there has been a lot of upwelling from deep waters due to wind changes. It is just hard to say.

Anonymous said...

thanks , i am not an expert i just keep track of all the articles i read because i find it amazing . the fishing off of stuart and jupiter florida has been the best in 15 years the last few months because of the drifts you cannot have when the gulf stream is blazing .with a slight breeze you can now drift south at .5 which makes fishing wrecks/reefs great .
the tides are easy to spot too . my friend used to have to watch times to pull his boat off the lift because it needed to be dredged . i actually got on his case back when it started becuase we lost 3 hrs of fishing when he called the time we could pull out .when we got there it looked like we could have left way before the time i wanted to .i thought maybe it was the wind but it has persisted since ... without the wind affecting it as i thought it was ( grew up on the water ) .then i saw the article on the gulf stream in the newspaper from a surfer/ writer and started looking myself and it all comes together now .its scary seeing things happen that in '91 they said would take 100+ years tick by in under 20 with them saying current projections are behind .

the current in the pacific is created by the santa anna winds and stirs the cold with the warm to get the plankton blooming . it caught them off guard but of course there wasnt an article in the paper when it started again .

thanks again

Tenney Naumer said...

Dear Sir,

In order to see the bigger picture, it is necessary to look at the enormous water vapor streams that circulate around the planet.

You will need to have Java installed on your computer, and you will need to be patient while the animation loads, but it is well worth waiting for. I look at these images daily.

Anonymous said...

hi its me again . i just wanted to say the tidal lvl was back to normal today for the first time in months . it had to be close to 2 ft lower than when i last posted . i am just north of the palm beaches in SE florida . just wanted to let you know incase you see something about it in the future . take care =)

Tenney Naumer said...

Hi! Thank you for your comment and report on the sea levels there in SE Florida.

Many factors can influence local sea levels on a given day or week, etc.

For example, there are some very strong winds blowing from the west which might be pushing the water out farther. Again, see the link I posted in my previous comment. It takes a while to load and requires Java (everyone has that on their pcs nowadays), but you will be able to see how the winds coming from the west, all around the mid-latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, in such a strong fashion, must be having an effect on where the water piles up. No doubt, the west coast of Africa is seeing some higher tides now.

Please continue to keep me posted.

Thanks again,