A "blob" of abnormally cold water in the North Atlantic, located near Greenland, has the potential to put enough drag on the ocean current to impact weather conditions in the years to come.
According to data compiled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), sea surface water temperatures over much of the Atlantic were warmer than average spanning January to August 2015. Waters from the northwestern Caribbean to the central part of the ocean were not only very warm but were record warm.
However, very chilly to record cold water has developed near Greenland, the NOAA data revealed.
The reason for the cold pocket and less salty water is believed to be due to the melting ice in Greenland discharging fresh water into the nearby North Atlantic.
While the cold, less salty pool near Greenland may be some sort of balancing act in the Earth's complex climate, it could cause the Gulf Stream to weaken. A weakening Gulf Stream could have major impact on the weather and climate.
The Gulf Stream is a strong ocean current that transports warm water northward just off the East Coast of the United States and sends branches of water along western Europe. The Gulf Stream is a part of the Atlantic's circulatory system.
According to According to AccuWeather Chief Meteorologist Elliot Abrams, "If the Gulf Stream and correspondingly other currents in the Atlantic weaken, then it could change long-term temperature patterns all around the Atlantic basin."
Some scientists believe that prior temperature anomalies have already begun to alter and slow the Gulf Stream and the balance of the currents circulating through the Atlantic over the past 100 years or so.
The temperature of surface ocean water can vastly affect the temperature of nearby land areas.
In a short-term example, people along the New England coast notice the routine chilling effect the cold Labrador Current and a sea breeze have on their weather during a number of days in the spring.
The colder the water is along the coast, the colder nearby communities will be during a sea breeze. As the Labrador Current weakens and water warms later in the summer, the cooling effect becomes less pronounced.
"London, at 51.5 North latitude, is north of all of the contiguous states, even Caribou, Maine," Abrams said. "Despite how far north it is, the climate in London is fairly mild due to the influence of the warm Gulf Stream waters."
Fairly routine fluctuations in temperatures of the tropical Pacific Ocean, known as the El Niño Southern Oscillation have been known to affect weather patterns around a large part of the globe.
Temperature changes, related to El Niño have been known to impact fish population distribution. When fishing conditions change, it can make a real difference in regional economies.
Long-term effects of the altering of the Gulf Stream and other Atlantic currents are complex.
Assuming the Atlantic current slow-down theory is correct, and should the abnormally cold water off of Greenland remain consistent, it could continue to partially block the transport of warm water and correspondingly warm air into western Europe for years to come.
The climate in the region including in London, Amsterdam, Paris and Lisbon could then cool a few degrees, relative to the warming conditions around the globe.
According to AccuWeather Long-Range Experts Brett Anderson and Bob Smerbeck, there is always a cause and effect relationship in terms of the ocean and the atmosphere.
"When there is an anomaly with either the atmosphere or ocean temperature you can bet there will be some effect on the other nearby or far away," Anderson said.
Areas other than western Europe could also become cooler or warmer due to the effects of slowing currents; this includes Iceland, southeastern Canada, the U.S. East Coast and the Caribbean islands.
It could also make some areas around the Atlantic shoreline more or less stormy and cause fluctuations in rain, snowfall and tropical storms.