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Scientists have now shown that it is highly likely that the Gulf Stream can be turned off completely in a VERY short time - perhaps merely days. You are in charge of ship-scheduling for a large Trans-oceanic shipping firm that handles upwards of 100 cargo ships weekly between N. America and many European ports. FIRST: assume that tomorrow the Gulf Stream turns off. You have 600 ship-trips in scheduling, and 150 ships at sea at the moment you find out. What will be your biggest problem in adjusting your business to the new oceanic conditions, and why? (b) SECOND - Assume instead that the turn-off has not yet happened, but that your boss takes the possibility very seriously. What contingency plans should you develop “just in case?” Label the parts of your answer to correspond to the question. The exact same things happened constantly during WWII because the Murmansk Convoys used the Gulf Stream to deliver supplies to Russia (look where Murmansk is it's ice-free due to the Gulf Stream). If you want to read a very tragic story from that era check out what happened to the convoy PQ-17.
The idea behind question comes from an article that appeared about 2 years ago in Time Magazine. A climatologist suggested that due to global warming the Gulf Stream might slow down much like it did during the Little Ice Age in the late 1700's. Time ran a 2-page article with color graphics and headlined "Is Europe Heading for a Big Chill?" (see attached article). In the article the climatologist even said that his data wasn't in any way conclusive but the press over-blew it anyway.
This article about the effects of deep-ocean water circulation will help explain the mechanisms that could cause the Gulf Stream and other surface currents to slow down or stop.
Here is perhaps the ultimate irony: the Titanic took the northerly route it did to avoid to having to fight the Gulf Stream. When the Titanic left Southampton England on April 10 1912 it was supposed to reach New York on April 15 and set a new speed record. They knew that icebergs were a risk on their northerly route especially in April which is the height of iceberg season in the North Atlantic. Check out this video.
By the way, additional thought question: diesel ships use the currents to save time and money (like jets use the upper-level winds), do nuclear-powered ships care? Relate this to the current sky-high price of diesel. Do you think we'll start seeing civilian nuclear-powered cargo ships?
Okay this week's topic is for all of you Logistics majors. Now to follow-up about last week's topic the Northwest Passage: even if it were to be ice-free for long periods it is doubtful that the NWP will ever become a major shipping route for several reasons: 1) The channels between the islands of the Canadian Archipelago are too shallow for super-tankers and large container ships. 2)The are no refueling or repair facilities in a vast area. Thus rescuing or repairing a ship and it's crew up there would be a monumental task. However the Russians are trying to increase the number of fueling stations and repair facilities on their Arctic coast in order to attract more commercial shipping.