The impact of climate change on ocean currents which help propel warmer water towards Ireland could lead to plunging temperatures or a greater likelihood of extreme storms in the future, according to new research.
The Atlantic Heat Conveyor or Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, or AMOC, results in warm water being moved northwards in the upper ocean and towards Ireland and Britain, predominantly by the Gulf Stream system.
But new research, involving a senior oceanographer at Maynooth University, indicates that climate change may lessen this effect - with the possibility of Ireland bearing the brunt of changing weather patterns.
The research, entitled 'Effects of climate change on the Atlantic Heat Conveyor relevant to the UK', was written by six academics, including Dr Gerard McCarthy of the Irish Climate Analysis and Research Unit (ICARUS) at the Department of Geography in Maynooth University.
It outlines how the AMOC is a major factor in the maintenance of the climate and marine environment of the UK and Ireland and how "the AMOC is predicted to weaken in the coming century due to climate change".
The study claimed that while there is "little support for the idea that the AMOC will abruptly shut down", it is currently in a weakened state and the subpolar North Atlantic appears to be entering a cooler period, driven largely by air–sea heat loss.
"Large biogeographical and climatic shifts are expected in response to this shift to cooler conditions," it said.
"The AMOC is currently in a reduced state," it added, saying that when this began and why is disputed.
"The Atlantic shift towards a weaker AMOC and a cooler sub-polar phase has global consequences," the study continued.
There are already predictions that the AMOC is "very likely" to decline by 2100, possibly by as much as 34%, led by global warming and the loss of Arctic sea ice.
Dr McCarthy said the gulf stream system acted as a type of temperature regulator for Ireland and has acted as a buffer against many extreme weather patterns such as storms.
"We know that that is weakening," he said of AMOC. "The areas over the sub-polar North Atlantic are not warming as fast as they were, in some parts it is cooling. There is no country in the world, probably, as dependent on this ocean's heat. We are very dependent on it."
Dr McCarthy said a full collapse of the AMOC - "the Day After Tomorrow scenario" - was thought unlikely, but that it was very likely that it would slow down significantly, with the potential effect that Ireland would be more prone to different weather systems.
He said that could include hurricanes and storms and more extreme colder weather, but stressed that because of climate change in general Irish weather would be impacted regardless or not exclusively because of changes to the gulf stream system.
The study, which is part of the Marine Climate Change Impacts: Report Card 2020, involves input from academics including from the Scottish Association for Marine Science and the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton.
David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet
Omniplex Cinemas will be screening the premiere of David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet on April 16.
In this unique feature documentary, the beloved naturalist reflects upon both the defining moments of his lifetime and the devastating changes he has seen.
In his 93 years, David Attenborough has visited every continent on the globe, exploring the wild places of our planet and documenting the living world in all its variety and wonder.
Mr Attenborough has warned that humans have “overrun the world” and warns that the actions of humanity are sending the planet into decline.
Now, for the first time he reflects upon both the defining moments of his lifetime as a naturalist and the devastating changes he has seen. This documentary is described as an 'urgent' first-hand account of humanity’s impact on nature and a message of hope for future generations.
The film will also be followed by a Q&A with David Attenborough live from the world premiere at the Royal Albert Hall.
Omniplex cinemas at Cork's MahonPoint; Belfast (Dundonald), Dublin (Rathmines), Galway (Salthill), Limerick, Lisburn, and Newry will hold screenings of the film on April 16.
The film will also be released globally on Netflix in the spring.