Greenhouse gasses may not be the sole culprit behind climate change. According to a new study, ocean currents also play a huge part in regulating our climate. reports that Rutgers University research shows major cooling of the Earth and ice buildup that happened 2.7 million years ago took place alongside a shift in the circulation of ocean currents, which pull in heat and CO2 from the Atlantic and move them through the deep ocean in a north to south direction before releasing the water into the Pacific.

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The scientists, who published their research in the journal Science, believe that the “ocean conveyor system” changed at the same time as a major expansion in the volume of glaciers in the northern hemisphere and a substantial fall in sea levels. They say it was Antarctic ice that cut off heat exchange at the ocean’s surface and forced it down into deeper waters, causing a global climate change during that period – instead of carbon dioxide in the air.

Related: Climate Change Blamed for Alarming 26% Increase in Ocean Acidity

“We argue that it was the establishment of modern deep ocean circulation – the ocean conveyor – about 2.7 million years ago, and not a major change in carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere that triggered an expansion of the ice sheets in the northern hemisphere,” says Stella Woodard, lead author of the study and post-doctoral researcher at Rutgers Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences.

“Our study suggests that changes in the storage of heat in the deep ocean could be as important to climate change as other hypotheses – tectonic activity or the drop in carbon dioxide level – and likely led to one of the major climate transitions of the past 30 million years,” added study co-author and Rutgers professor, Yair Rosenthal. “We may have underestimated the efficiency of the oceans as a storehouse for heat and energy. It may buy us some time – how much time, I really don’t know – to come to terms with climate change. But it’s not going to stop climate change.”


Images via gsfc, Flickr Creative Commons