In tango, there is a leader and a follower. At 2am last night I was reflecting on my recent tango lesson as well as a recent climate conference I attended and found a connection. I study glaciers, which are typically the followers, they respond to a change in climate. But other parts of the climate system, the atmosphere or the oceans, for example, can switch roles and be the leader or the follower. I’ve been thinking a lot about the North Atlantic Ocean and it’s influence on the rest of the globe, if you’ve seen “The Day After Tomorrow” you have an idea of what the North Atlantic is capable of doing (with some drama added in). I think the North Atlantic can be a leader and force changes in ocean circulation and atmospheric circulation in the rest of the world, we are seeing this impact in past climate records. But it also looks like the North Atlantic can switch roles to being a follower. Changes in the North Atlantic circulation depend on meltwater from the large northern hemisphere ice sheets that covered northern North America and northern Europe. So now, the glacier becomes a leader (forcing the North Atlantic) and a follower (responding to climate change and/or internal dynamics).
The climate system is probably one of the most complicated, unchoreographed dances ever imagined, with millions of dancers all connected and moving together with multiple leaders and followers with some occasionally switching roles or delaying their response.