After reading about the NAC (North Atlantic Current) weakening in the news, we got to wondering about its history and that of the gulf stream. Specifically, how and when did they start? Were there conditions during the last ice age that prevented such currents forming, and we can point to a time X when the earth was warm (and the ice receeded enough) for them to do so? Or were they always there, just maybe shorter? The fact that there's worries about the NAC cutting off and europe cooling down considerably points to at least that one not being a guaranteed, always on thing.

Googling "how old is" or "age of" for these currents only returns dates for when they were discovered - and I'm fairly sure the gulf stream existed prior to 1513.

So I hope that someone here has knowledge beyond that: how did these ocean currents come to be? And roughly when in our planet's long history would that have happened?

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ is your question limited to the AMOC?.the gulf stream is mapped in detail for the last 500000 years as you can see here sciencemag.org/news/2020/03/… to find when the gulf stream started you can search for,paleoclimate-amoc-ocean stream-gulf stream. $\endgroup$ Aug 24, 2021 at 6:24
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ you might be able to find some useful information here pik-potsdam.de/~stefan/Publications/Book_chapters/… or in the links in the article. $\endgroup$ Aug 24, 2021 at 6:40
  • $\begingroup$ Upper boundary: ~200 Ma, beginning of the opening of the North Atlantic Ocean. :) $\endgroup$ Sep 27, 2021 at 13:17

1 Answer 1


This is what I found on Wiki, researching the same question: The isthmus of Panama is thought to have been formed around 3 million years ago, separating the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and causing the creation of the Gulf Stream. This was first suggested in 1910 by North American paleontologist Henry Fairfield Osborn. He based the proposal on the fossil record of mammals in Central America. This conclusion provided a foundation for Alfred Wegener when he proposed the theory of continental drift in 1912. What now bugs me is the outline of sea/oceanic currents before the isthmus closed.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for finding that! Also, if you find anything about those older currents, let me know? :) $\endgroup$
    – Syndic
    Feb 4, 2023 at 20:13

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.