Climate change may accelerate world’s most powerful ocean current

By Chelsea Harvey | 03/27/2024 01:53 PM EDT

A faster Antarctic Circumpolar Current could cause ice to melt even faster.

A whale breaches the surface of the Southern Ocean in front of mountains on the Antarctica Peninsula on March 15, 2023.

Global warming could strengthen a powerful ocean current that regulates climate patterns. David Keyton/AP

The world’s largest and most powerful ocean current may grow even stronger as the planet warms, scientists say. And that could make Antarctica’s ice melt even faster.

In fact, there’s evidence that’s been happening repeatedly for millennia.

That’s according to a new study, published Wednesday in the journal Nature, which looks back through millions of years of Earth’s history. At the crux of the research is the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, or ACC, a colossal ocean circulation system in the Southern Hemisphere.


Stretching from the surface to the seafloor and spanning as much as 1,200 miles of ocean, the current contains more than 100 times as much water as all the world’s rivers combined. It forms a gigantic ring rushing clockwise around the continent of Antarctica that helps regulate ocean circulation and climate patterns around the globe.