(CNN)A key component of the global oceanic circulatory system, which includes the Atlantic’s Gulf Stream, is at its weakest in more than 1,600 years, a new study has found.
Research recently published in science journal Nature by the University College London (UCL) and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) has found that the circulation of water in the Atlantic has been declining since the 1800s. It’s a trend which could exacerbate the effects of climate change, such as rising sea levels on the US East Coast and disrupted weather patterns across North America, Europe and north Africa, including the increase in frequency of extreme weather events, like flooding, drought and winter storms. Photos: The effects of climate change on the worldFossil fuels still comprise the largest source of energy consumed worldwide, coal being the worst CO2-emitter of all. Carbon dioxide emissions are closely tied to climate change, and its effects are already at our doorstep. Scroll through the gallery to see how communities around the world are being affectedHide Caption 1 of 15 Photos: The effects of climate change on the worldFlorida – A flooded street in Miami Beach in September 2015. The flood was caused by a combination of seasonal high tides and what many believe is a rise in sea levels due to climate change. Miami Beach has already built miles of seawalls and has embarked on a five-year, $400 million stormwater pump program to keep the ocean waters from inundating the city.Hide Caption 2 of 15 Photos: The effects of climate change on the worldVirginia – Sea water collects in front of a home in Tangier, Virginia, in May 2017. Tangier Island in Chesapeake Bay has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. Now, the 1.2 square mile island is suffering from floods and erosion and is slowly sinking. A paper published in the journal Scientific Reports states that “the citizens of Tangier may become among the first climate change refugees in the continental USA.”Hide Caption 3 of 15 Photos: The effects of climate change on the worldAustria – The Pasterze glacier is Austria’s largest and it’s shrinking rapidly: the sign on the trail indicates where the foot of the glacier reached in 2015, a year before this photo was taken. The European Environmental Agency predicts the volume of European glaciers will decline by between 22 percent and 89 percent by 2100, depending on the future intensity of greenhouse gases. Hide Caption 4 of 15 Photos: The effects of climate change on the worldGreenland – A NASA research aircraft flies over retreating glaciers on the Upper Baffin Bay coast of Greenland. Scientists say the Arctic is one of the regions hit hardest by climate change. Hide Caption 5 of 15 Photos: The effects of climate change on the worldSwitzerland – A wooden pole that had been driven into the ice the year before now stands exposed as the Aletsch glacier melts and sinks at a rate of about 10-13 meters per year near Bettmeralp, Switzerland. Hide Caption 6 of 15 Photos: The effects of climate change on the worldLouisiana – In the Mississippi Delta, trees are withering away because of rising saltwater, creating “Ghost Forests.”Hide Caption 7 of 15 Photos: The effects of climate change on the worldCalifornia – A street is flooded in Sun Valley, Southern California in February 2017. Powerful storms have swept Southern California after years of severe drought, in a “drought-to-deluge” cycle that some believe is consistent with the consequences of global warming.Hide Caption 8 of 15 Photos: The effects of climate change on the worldSouth Africa – The carcass of a dead cow lies in the Black Umfolozi River, dry from the effects of a severe drought, in Nongoma district north west from Durban, in November 2015. South Africa ranks as the 30th driest country in the world and is considered a water-scarce region. A highly variable climate causes uneven distribution of rainfall, making droughts even more extreme.Hide Caption 9 of 15 Photos: The effects of climate change on the worldSudan – A gigantic cloud of dust known as “Haboob” advances over Sudan’s capital, Khartoum. Moving like a thick wall, it carries sand and dust burying homes, while increasing evaporation in a region that’s struggling to preserve water supplies. Experts say that without quick intervention, parts of the African country — one of the most vulnerable in the world — could become uninhabitable as a result of climate change.Hide Caption 10 of 15 Photos: The effects of climate change on the worldMaldives – Low tide reveals the extent of accelerated erosion shown by the amount of exposed beach rocks on Maafushi beach in the Maldives. This is the world’s lowest-lying country, with no part lying more than six feet above sea level. The island nation’s future is under threat from anticipated global sea level rise, with many of its islands already suffering from coastal erosion.Hide Caption 11 of 15 Photos: The effects of climate change on the worldArgentina – Los Glaciares National Park, part of the third largest ice field in the world, on November 27, 2015 in Santa Cruz Province, Argentina. The majority of the almost 50 large glaciers in the park have been retreating during the past 50 years due to warming temperatures, according to the European Space Agency (ESA).Hide Caption 12 of 15 Photos: The effects of climate change on the worldKenya – A boy from the remote Turkana tribe in Northern Kenya walks across a dried up river near Lodwar, Kenya. Millions of people across Africa are facing a critical shortage of water and food, a situation made worse by climate change. Hide Caption 13 of 15 Photos: The effects of climate change on the worldIndia – An Indian farmer in a dried up cotton field in the southern Indian state of Telangana, in April 2016. Much of India is reeling from a heat wave and severe drought conditions that have decimated crops, killed livestock and left at least 330 million people without enough water for their daily needs.Hide Caption 14 of 15 Photos: The effects of climate change on the worldHonduras – Strawberries lost due to a fungus that experts report is caused by climate change in La Tigra, Honduras, in September 2016. According to Germanwatch’s Global Climate Risk Index, Honduras ranks among the countries most affected by climate change. Hide Caption 15 of 15The weakening of the system isn’t likely to be arrested any time soon, according to lead author David Thornalley, according to a press release published to mark the findings. The causes of the system’s slowing down are “predicted to continue in the future due to continued carbon dioxide emissions,” he is quoted as saying. Read MoreThe system, the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), brings warm, salty water north from the Gulf of Mexico to the North Atlantic — the Gulf Stream — where it releases its heat atmospherically before sinking to the depths of the ocean, and traveling south to the Antarctic, where it starts its journey again. The study’s findings “suggest that the AMOC has weakened over the past 150 years by approximately 15 to 20 percent” says Thornalley.The AMOC is a crucial part of the global system of heat transfer throughout the earth’s oceans — the so-called Global Ocean Conveyor Belt. The study looked at sediment historically carried along by the AMOC — the larger the grains, the stronger the current. It also reconstructed near-surface ocean temperatures at points along the AMOC’s journey to gauge how affected these were by current strength. Warming at the end of the Little Ice Age, which occurred around 150 years ago, and recent climate change, have been attributed to the disruption of the AMOC system. The Little Ice Age was “a centuries-long cold period that lasted until about 1850,” according to Delia Oppo, a co-author of the study. The study found that periods of global warming, resulting in meltwater from Arctic sea ice, glaciers and ice sheets, disrupt the system with an influx of fresh water.