Britain to install 16m pound system to monitor Gulf Stream

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London, Jan 20 (UNI) Britain will install a 16-million-pound system of latest underwater monitoring techniques across the Atlantic to provide early warning that the Gulf Stream might be falling, an event that would trigger cataclysmic freezing in Britain for decades.

A huge number of robot submarines and marine sensors will be deployed from Florida to the Canary Islands, to check whether cold water pouring south from melting Arctic ice sheets is diverting the current's warm waters away from Britain.

The system will be called Rapid Watch.

Without the Gulf Stream, the UK would be as cold as Canada in winter. Ports could freeze over and snowstorms and blizzards would paralyse the country. An extreme version of this meteorological mayhem provided the film 'The Day After Tomorrow' with its plotline.

''The Day After Tomorrow' suggested the Gulf Stream could fail within a couple of days. In reality, a collapse will take a lot longer, but could still occur in about 10 years,'' Rapid Watch's co-ordinator Meric Srokosz of the Southampton Oceanographic Centre was quoted by the Guardian as saying.

''Rapid Watch has been designed to discover if such weakening is already occurring or is about to begin,'' he added.

The Gulf Stream starts in the Gulf of Mexico and follows the eastern US seaboard before crossing the Atlantic towards western Europe. The heat it brings across the Atlantic gives Britain its temperate climate.

Scientists have warned that the current is threatened by meltwater from Greenland and the Arctic. As global warming takes a grip, glaciers and ice sheets are disappearing faster and faster.

This could bring major cooling to western Europe. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned last year, the Gulf Stream is particularly warm and salty, and increasing amounts of fresh water pouring into it from the Arctic are likely to disrupt it.

Rapid Watch, which will begin operations later this year, will monitor the Gulf Stream until 2014. Cables will moor monitoring devices to the seabed and measure current flow, temperature and other variables at depths down to 5,000 metres, Dr Srokosz explained.

In addition, robot probes-- called gliders-- will study the current as they descend and ascend.

UNI XC YA AS1351

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