Rapid Climate Change (RAPID)

Programme overview

The Rapid Climate Change programme (RAPID) explored the causes of rapid switches in climate, with a main (but not exclusive) focus on the Atlantic Ocean's thermohaline circulation.

Background & objectives

Currents in the thermohaline circulation carry warm water north from the tropics, releasing heat to the atmosphere. When they reach high latitudes, these waters have cooled, becoming more dense. Cold salty water sinks and returns towards the equator at depth.

Global warming could make it harder to form this return flow, as could changing rainfall or sea ice cover. This could shift, weaken or shut down the circulation, drawing less heat northwards. Global warming could actually bring local cooling to northwest Europe.

The RAPID programme invested £5 million in a prototype system to continuously monitor the strength and structure of the North Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (MOC).

Reports & key findings

The following case studies are linked to this research programme.

Cutting uncertainty in regional climate predictions offers the UK enormous economic savings (PDF, 83KB)
Synopsis: At regional scales and over the next four decades, the biggest source of uncertainty in climate predictions is differences between climate models. Focused research could reduce this by 10-20%, cutting the cost of adaption measures.

Rapid climate change - advising policymakers on changes to north-west Europe's climate (PDF, 82KB)
Synopsis: Groundbreaking equipment is monitoring the ocean circulation carrying heat to north-west Europe. In the past, shifts in this circulation have caused the climate to change markedly in a matter of decades.