A new study by the University of Utah shows that changes in wind patterns within the stratosphere has a direct influence on ocean circulation within an area of the North Atlantic, which in turn greatly affects the ocean circulation conveyor belt and weather patterns throughout the world.

While scientists already understood the link between the stratosphere and the lower-level troposphere, which is the section of the atmosphere in which weather occurs. The correlateion between the ocean’s circulatory patterns and climate was also well understood. However, this is the first study to discover that the three are all interconnected in a very direct manner.

“It is not new that the stratosphere impacts the troposphere,” said Reichler, associate professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Utah. “It also is not new that the troposphere impacts the ocean. But now we actually demonstrated an entire link between the stratosphere, the troposphere and the ocean.”

The study used 4,000 years of weather simulations in addition to 30 years of observed data to see how changes in the polar vortex winds within the stratosphere corresponded directly with changes in ocean circulation in the North Atlantic, particularly in the waters just south of Greenland, which the researchers refer to as the “Achilles heel of the North Atlantic.”

“The computer model showed that when we have a series of these polar vortex changes, the ocean circulation is susceptible to those stratospheric events,” Reichler says. “…The North Atlantic is particularly important for global ocean circulation, and therefore for climate worldwide. In a region south of Greenland, which is called the downwelling region, water can get cold and salty enough – and thus dense enough – so the water starts sinking.”

These findings could greatly impact our understanding of global warming and climate change, as Reichler and the other researchers for the project believe that this new discovery could offer explanation as to the extreme weather patterns seen as of late. Since the stratosphere has been greatly altered by man through the emission of greenhouse gases and the subsequent depletion of the ozone layer, the impact that this could have on climate could be massive.

“If we as humans modify the stratosphere, it may – through the chain of events we demonstrate in this study – also impact the ocean circulation,” said Reichler. “Good examples of how we modify the stratosphere are the ozone hole and also fossil-fuel burning that adds carbon dioxide to the stratosphere. These changes to the stratosphere can alter the ocean, and any change to the ocean is extremely important to global climate.”