In the last month, there’s been much attention to a cool patch in the North Atlantic Ocean, where record cold temperatures over the past eight months present a stark contrast to a globe that is experiencing record warmth. And although there is certainly no consensus on the matter yet, some scientists think this pattern may be a sign of long-feared consequences of climate change — a slowing of North Atlantic ocean circulation, due to a freshening of surface waters.

The cause, goes the thinking, would be the rapidly melting Greenland ice sheet, whose large freshwater flows may weaken ocean “overturning” by reducing the density of cold surface waters (colder, salty water is denser). If cold, salty waters don’t sink in the North Atlantic and flow back southward toward Antarctica at depth, then warm surface waters won’t flow northward to take their place. The result could be a significant change to northern hemisphere climate, as less ocean-borne heat reaches higher latitudes. CONTINUE