A new study has revealed that one of the major global systems regulating the planet may be at risk of collapsing, and the results would be disastrous for Earth and its species

The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) is a conveyor belt within the ocean that moves warm, salty water from the tropics to Northern Europe and brings colder water back down south along the ocean floor. It is propelled by factors such as temperature and salinity. This system is critical to keeping the planet in check, redistributing heat and regulating weather patterns around the globe.

However, research by Nature Climate Change shares that the AMOC may be on the verge of a shutdown that could have drastic effects on the environment, and the cause is human-induced global warming.

Research shows that it is possible that the AMOC could stop abruptly—it happened before, in the last ice age—and there are warning signs of this occurring again under the current trajectory of climate change.

While the AMOC is self-sustaining, changes in ocean temperature and salinity have the ability to throw the current off its state of equilibrium. Scientists have detected warning signs that these changes may be occurring, finding indirect measures of the current’s strength that indicate it to be slowing down and therefore vulnerable to a collapse.

As the planet warms, higher air temperatures raise the ocean temperatures, which can affect the circulation of heat within the ocean. Plus, as melting glaciers bring more freshwater into the ocean, the salinity content will decrease, meaning the entire loop can be thrown off balance. When this occurred during the last ice age, it brought frigid temperatures to the Northern Hemisphere, especially Europe, and resulted in a cold spell that lasted 1,000 years.

Though this is a terrifying prospect, it is not guaranteed to happen, and researchers are continuing to study and monitor the situation. However, global weather changes such as record-high temperatures, melting glaciers and rising sea levels are evidence that global warming is occurring, and if we continue along this path, major systems like the AMOC will inevitably be put in jeopardy. It's imperative for us to step up our efforts to combat climate change, before the major lifelines of our planet are destroyed.