Ocean current

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Ocean surface currents.jpg
The ocean currents.
Distinctive white lines trace the flow of surface currents around the world.
Visualization showing global ocean currents from Jan 01, 2010 to Dec 31, 2012 at sea level then at 2000 meters below sea level.
Animation of circulation around ice shelves of Antarctica.

An ocean current is a continuous, directed movement of sea water generated by a number of forces acting upon the water, including wind, the Coriolis effect, breaking waves, cabbeling, and temperature and salinity differences. Depth contours, shoreline configurations, and interactions with other currents influence a current's direction and strength. Ocean currents are primarily horizontal water movements.

Wind Flow of gases or air on a large scale

Wind is the flow of gases on a large scale. On the surface of the Earth, wind consists of the bulk movement of air. In outer space, solar wind is the movement of gases or charged particles from the Sun through space, while planetary wind is the outgassing of light chemical elements from a planet's atmosphere into space. Winds are commonly classified by their spatial scale, their speed, the types of forces that cause them, the regions in which they occur, and their effect. The strongest observed winds on a planet in the Solar System occur on Neptune and Saturn. Winds have various aspects: velocity ; the density of the gas involved; energy content or wind energy. Wind is also an important means of transportation for seeds and small birds; with time things can travel thousands of miles in the wind.

Cabbeling When two separate water parcels mix to form a third which is denser and sinks below both constituentss

Cabbeling is when two separate water parcels mix to form a third which sinks below both parents. The combined water parcel is denser than the original two water parcels.

Temperature physical property of matter that quantitatively expresses the common notions of hot and cold

A temperature expresses hot and cold, as measured with a thermometer. In physics, hotness is a body's ability to impart energy as heat to another body that is colder.

Contents

An ocean current flows for great distances and together they create the global conveyor belt, which plays a dominant role in determining the climate of many of Earth’s regions. More specifically, ocean currents influence the temperature of the regions through which they travel. For example, warm currents traveling along more temperate coasts increase the temperature of the area by warming the sea breezes that blow over them. Perhaps the most striking example is the Gulf Stream, which makes northwest Europe much more temperate than any other region at the same latitude. Other example is Lima, Peru, where the climate is cooler, being sub-tropical, than the tropical latitudes in which the area is located, due to the effect of the Humboldt Current.

Climate Statistics of weather conditions in a given region over long periods

On Earth, interactions between the five parts of the climate system that produce daily weather and long-term averages of weather are called "climate". Some of the meteorological variables that are commonly measured are temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure, wind, and precipitation. The climate of a location is affected by its latitude, terrain, and altitude, as well as nearby water bodies and their currents.

Earth Third planet from the Sun in the Solar System

Earth is the third planet from the Sun and the only astronomical object known to harbor life. According to radiometric dating and other sources of evidence, Earth formed over 4.5 billion years ago. Earth's gravity interacts with other objects in space, especially the Sun and the Moon, which is Earth's only natural satellite. Earth orbits around the Sun in 365.26 days, a period known as an Earth year. During this time, Earth rotates about its axis about 366.26 times.

Gulf Stream A warm, swift Atlantic current that originates in the Gulf of Mexico flows around the tip of Florida, along the east coast of the United States before crossing the Atlantic Ocean

The Gulf Stream, together with its northern extension the North Atlantic Drift, is a warm and swift Atlantic ocean current that originates in the Gulf of Mexico and stretches to the tip of Florida, and follows the eastern coastlines of the United States and Newfoundland before crossing the Atlantic Ocean. The process of western intensification causes the Gulf Stream to be a northward accelerating current off the east coast of North America. At about 40°0′N30°0′W, it splits in two, with the northern stream, the North Atlantic Drift, crossing to Northern Europe and the southern stream, the Canary Current, recirculating off West Africa.

Function

The bathymetry of the Kerguelen Plateau in the Southern Ocean governs the course of the new current part of the global network of ocean currents (Source:CSIRO) CSIRO ScienceImage 11128 The bathymetry of the Kerguelen Plateau in the Southern Ocean governs the course of the new current part of the global network of ocean currents.jpg
The bathymetry of the Kerguelen Plateau in the Southern Ocean governs the course of the new current part of the global network of ocean currents (Source:CSIRO)

Surface oceanic currents are sometimes wind driven and develop their typical clockwise spirals in the northern hemisphere and counter-clockwise rotation in the southern hemisphere due to imposed wind stresses. In these wind-driven currents, the Ekman spiral effect results in the currents flowing at an angle to the driving winds. In addition, the areas of surface ocean currents move somewhat with the seasons; this is most notable in equatorial currents.

Ekman spiral A structure of currents or winds near a horizontal boundary in which the flow direction rotates as one moves away from the boundary

The Ekman spiral is a structure of currents or winds near a horizontal boundary in which the flow direction rotates as one moves away from the boundary. It derives its name from the Swedish oceanographer Vagn Walfrid Ekman. The deflection of surface currents was first noticed by the Norwegian oceanographer Fridtjof Nansen during the Fram expedition (1893–1896) and the effect was first physically explained by Vagn Walfrid Ekman.

A season is a division of the year marked by changes in weather, ecology, and the amount of daylight. On Earth, seasons is the result from Earth's orbit around the Sun and Earth's axial tilt relative to the ecliptic plane. In temperate and polar regions, the seasons are marked by changes in the intensity of sunlight that reaches the Earth's surface, variations of which may cause animals to undergo hibernation or to migrate, and plants to be dormant. Various cultures define the number and nature of seasons based on regional variations.

Deep ocean basins generally have a non-symmetric surface current, in that the eastern equatorward-flowing branch is broad and diffuse whereas the western poleward flowing branch is very narrow. These western boundary currents (of which the Gulf Stream is an example) are a consequence of the rotation of the Earth.

Boundary current Ocean current with dynamics determined by the presence of a coastline

Boundary currents are ocean currents with dynamics determined by the presence of a coastline, and fall into two distinct categories: western boundary currents and eastern boundary currents.

Deep ocean currents are driven by density and temperature gradients. Thermohaline circulation is also known as the ocean's conveyor belt (which refers to deep ocean density-driven ocean basin currents). These currents, called submarine rivers, flow under the surface of the ocean and are hidden from immediate detection. Where significant vertical movement of ocean currents is observed, this is known as upwelling and downwelling. Deep ocean currents are currently being researched using a fleet of underwater robots called Argo.

Thermohaline circulation A part of the large-scale ocean circulation that is driven by global density gradients created by surface heat and freshwater fluxes

Thermohaline circulation (THC) is a part of the large-scale ocean circulation that is driven by global density gradients created by surface heat and freshwater fluxes. The adjective thermohaline derives from thermo- referring to temperature and -haline referring to salt content, factors which together determine the density of sea water. Wind-driven surface currents travel polewards from the equatorial Atlantic Ocean, cooling en route, and eventually sinking at high latitudes. This dense water then flows into the ocean basins. While the bulk of it upwells in the Southern Ocean, the oldest waters upwell in the North Pacific. Extensive mixing therefore takes place between the ocean basins, reducing differences between them and making the Earth's oceans a global system. The water in these circuits transport both energy and mass around the globe. As such, the state of the circulation has a large impact on the climate of the Earth.

Upwelling The replacement by deep water moving upwards of surface water driven offshore by wind

Upwelling is an oceanographic phenomenon that involves wind-driven motion of dense, cooler, and usually nutrient-rich water towards the ocean surface, replacing the warmer, usually nutrient-depleted surface water. The nutrient-rich upwelled water stimulates the growth and reproduction of primary producers such as phytoplankton. Due to the biomass of phytoplankton and presence of cool water in these regions, upwelling zones can be identified by cool sea surface temperatures (SST) and high concentrations of chlorophyll-a.

Downwelling is the process of accumulation and sinking of higher density material beneath lower density material, such as cold or saline water beneath warmer or fresher water or cold air beneath warm air. It is the sinking limb of a convection cell. Upwelling is the opposite process and together these two forces are responsible in the oceans for the thermohaline circulation. The sinking of cold lithosphere at subduction zones is another example of downwelling in plate tectonics.

Surface currents make up only 8% of all water in the ocean, are generally restricted to the upper 400 m (1,300 ft) of ocean water, and are separated from lower regions by varying temperatures and salinity which affect the density of the water, which in turn, defines each oceanic region. Because the movement of deep water in ocean basins is caused by density-driven forces and gravity, deep waters sink into deep ocean basins at high latitudes where the temperatures are cold enough to cause the density to increase.

Ocean currents are measured in sverdrup (sv), where 1 sv is equivalent to a volume flow rate of 1,000,000 m3 (35,000,000 cu ft) per second.

In oceanography, a sverdrup is a non-SI unit of flow, with 1 Sv equal to 1,000,000 cubic metres per second (264,000,000 USgal/s); it is equivalent to the SI derived unit cubic hectometer per second. It is used almost exclusively in oceanography to measure the volumetric rate of transport of ocean currents. It is named after Harald Sverdrup. It is distinct from the SI unit sievert or the non-SI svedberg, which use the same symbol.

Surface currents are found on the surface of an ocean, and are driven by large scale wind currents. They are directly affected by the windthe Coriolis effect plays a role in their behaviours. [1]

Thermohaline circulation

The thermohaline circulation is a part of the large-scale ocean circulation that is driven by global density gradients created by surface heat and freshwater fluxes. [2] [3] The adjective thermohaline derives from thermo- referring to temperature and -haline referring to salt content, factors which together determine the density of sea water. Wind-driven surface currents (such as the Gulf Stream) travel polewards from the equatorial Atlantic Ocean, cooling en route, and eventually sinking at high latitudes (forming North Atlantic Deep Water). This dense water then flows into the ocean basins. While the bulk of it upwells in the Southern Ocean, the oldest waters (with a transit time of around 1000 years) [4] upwell in the North Pacific. [5] Extensive mixing therefore takes place between the ocean basins, reducing differences between them and making the Earth's oceans a global system. On their journey, the water masses transport both energy (in the form of heat) and matter (solids, dissolved substances and gases) around the globe. As such, the state of the circulation has a large impact on the climate of the Earth. The thermohaline circulation is sometimes called the ocean conveyor belt, the great ocean conveyor, or the global conveyor belt. On occasion, it is imprecisely used to refer to the meridional overturning circulation, MOC.

Coupling data collected by NASA/JPL by several different satellite-borne sensors, researchers have been able to "break through" the ocean's surface to detect "Meddies" - super-salty warm-water eddies that originate in the Mediterranean Sea and then sink more than a half-mile underwater in the Atlantic Ocean. The Meddies are shown in red in this scientific figure. Meddes-20060320-browse.jpg
Coupling data collected by NASA/JPL by several different satellite-borne sensors, researchers have been able to "break through" the ocean's surface to detect "Meddies" – super-salty warm-water eddies that originate in the Mediterranean Sea and then sink more than a half-mile underwater in the Atlantic Ocean. The Meddies are shown in red in this scientific figure.
A recording current meter Recording Current Meter.jpg
A recording current meter

Importance

A 1943 map of the world's ocean currents. Ocean currents 1943 (borderless)3.png
A 1943 map of the world's ocean currents.

Knowledge of surface ocean currents is essential in reducing costs of shipping, since traveling with them reduces fuel costs. In the wind powered sailing-ship era, knowledge of wind patterns and ocean currents was even more essential. A good example of this is the Agulhas Current (down along eastern Africa), which long prevented Portuguese sailors from reaching India. In recent times, around-the-world sailing competitors make good use of surface currents to build and maintain speed. Ocean currents are also very important in the dispersal of many life forms. An example is the life-cycle of the European Eel.

Ocean currents are important in the study of marine debris, and vice versa. These currents also affect temperatures throughout the world. For example, the ocean current that brings warm water up the north Atlantic to northwest Europe also cumulatively and slowly blocks ice from forming along the seashores, which would also block ships from entering and exiting inland waterways and seaports, hence ocean currents play a decisive role in influencing the climates of regions through which they flow. Cold ocean water currents flowing from polar and sub-polar regions bring in a lot of plankton that are crucial to the continued survival of several key sea creature species in marine ecosystems. Since plankton are the food of fish, abundant fish populations often live where these currents prevail.

Ocean currents can also be used for marine power generation, with areas off of Japan, Florida and Hawaii being considered for test projects.

See also

Related Research Articles

The Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) is an ocean current that flows clockwise from west to east around Antarctica. An alternative name for the ACC is the West Wind Drift. The ACC is the dominant circulation feature of the Southern Ocean and has a mean transport estimated at 100-150 Sverdrups, or possibly even higher, making it the largest ocean current. The current is circumpolar due to the lack of any landmass connecting with Antarctica and this keeps warm ocean waters away from Antarctica, enabling that continent to maintain its huge ice sheet.

North Atlantic Deep Water (NADW) is a deep water mass formed in the North Atlantic Ocean. Thermohaline circulation of the world's oceans involves the flow of warm surface waters from the southern hemisphere into the North Atlantic. Water flowing northward becomes modified through evaporation and mixing with other water masses, leading to increased salinity. When this water reaches the North Atlantic it cools and sinks through convection, due to its decreased temperature and increased salinity resulting in increased density. NADW is the outflow of this thick deep layer, which can be detected by its high salinity, high oxygen content, nutrient minima, high 14C/12C, and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).

Oceanography The study of the physical and biological aspects of the ocean

Oceanography, also known as oceanology, is the study of the physical and biological aspects of the ocean. It is an important Earth science, which covers a wide range of topics, including ecosystem dynamics; ocean currents, waves, and geophysical fluid dynamics; plate tectonics and the geology of the sea floor; and fluxes of various chemical substances and physical properties within the ocean and across its boundaries. These diverse topics reflect multiple disciplines that oceanographers blend to further knowledge of the world ocean and understanding of processes within: astronomy, biology, chemistry, climatology, geography, geology, hydrology, meteorology and physics. Paleoceanography studies the history of the oceans in the geologic past.

Physical oceanography The study of physical conditions and physical processes within the ocean

Physical oceanography is the study of physical conditions and physical processes within the ocean, especially the motions and physical properties of ocean waters.

Atmospheric circulation The large-scale movement of air, a process which distributes thermal energy about the Earths surface

Atmospheric circulation is the large-scale movement of air, and together with ocean circulation is the means by which thermal energy is redistributed on the surface of the Earth.

Thermocline A distinct layer in a large body of fluid in which temperature changes more rapidly with depth than it does in the layers above or below

A thermocline is a thin but distinct layer in a large body of fluid in which temperature changes more rapidly with depth than it does in the layers above or below. In the ocean, the thermocline divides the upper mixed layer from the calm deep water below.

Ocean gyre Any large system of circulating ocean currents

In oceanography, a gyre is any large system of circulating ocean currents, particularly those involved with large wind movements. Gyres are caused by the Coriolis effect; planetary vorticity along with horizontal and vertical friction, determine the circulation patterns from the wind stress curl (torque).

Walker circulation theorerical model of air flow in the atmosphere

The Walker circulation, also known as the Walker cell, is a conceptual model of the air flow in the tropics in the lower atmosphere (troposphere). According to this model, parcels of air follow a closed circulation in the zonal and vertical directions. This circulation, which is roughly consistent with observations, is caused by differences in heat distribution between ocean and land. It was discovered by Gilbert Walker. In addition to motions in the zonal and vertical direction the tropical atmosphere also has considerable motion in the meridional direction as part of, for example, the Hadley Circulation.

Norwegian Current A current that flows northeasterly along the Atlantic coast of Norway into the Barents Sea

The Norwegian Current is a water current that flows northeasterly along the Atlantic coast of Norway at depths of between 50 and 100 metres through the Barents Sea Opening into the Barents Sea. It contrasts with the North Atlantic Current because it is colder and contains less salt, having most of its tributary water coming from the slightly brackish North and Baltic seas, as well as the Norwegian fjords and rivers. It is, however, considerably warmer and saltier than the Arctic Ocean, which is freshened by the ice in and around it. Winter temperatures in the Norwegian current are typically between 2 and 5 °C whereas the temperature of the Atlantic water exceeds 6 °C.

Henry Stommel American oceanographer

Henry "Hank" Melson Stommel was a major contributor to the field of physical oceanography. Beginning in the 1940s, he advanced theories about global ocean circulation patterns and the behavior of the Gulf Stream that form the basis of physical oceanography today. Widely recognized as one of the most influential and productive oceanographers of his time, Stommel was both a groundbreaking theoretician and an astute, seagoing observer.

Shutdown of thermohaline circulation An effect of global warming on a major ocean circulation.

A shutdown or slowdown of the thermohaline circulation is a hypothesized effect of global warming on a major ocean circulation.

Atlantic meridional overturning circulation A system of currents in the Atlantic Ocean, having a northward flow of warm, salty water in the upper layers and a southward flow of colder, deep waters that are part of the thermohaline circulation

The Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) is the zonally-integrated component of surface and deep currents in the Atlantic Ocean. It is characterized by a northward flow of warm, salty water in the upper layers of the Atlantic, and a southward flow of colder, deep waters that are part of the thermohaline circulation. These "limbs" are linked by regions of overturning in the Nordic and Labrador Seas and the Southern Ocean. The AMOC is an important component of the Earth's climate system, and is a result of both atmospheric and thermohaline drivers.

A subsurface current is an oceanic current that runs beneath surface currents. Examples include the Equatorial Undercurrents of the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans, the California Undercurrent, and the Agulhas Undercurrent, the deep thermohaline circulation in the Atlantic, and bottom gravity currents near Antarctica. The forcing mechanisms vary for these different types of subsurface currents.

This is a glossary of terms used in fisheries, fisheries management and fisheries science.

Somali Current An ocean boundary current that flows along the coast of Somalia and Oman in the Western Indian Ocean

The Somali Current is a cold ocean boundary current that runs along the coast of Somalia and Oman in the Western Indian Ocean and is analogous to the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic Ocean. This current is heavily influenced by the monsoons and is the only major upwelling system that occurs on a western boundary of an ocean. The water that is upwelled by the current merges with another upwelling system, creating one of the most productive ecosystems in the ocean.

Heceta Bank

Heceta Bank is a rocky bank located 55 kilometers (km) off the Oregon coast near Florence, centered on approximately 44°N, 125°W, and is roughly 29 km long and upwards of 13 km wide. Heceta Bank is an area of ecological and oceanographic importance. The unique bathymetric features and seasonal circulation within the bank provides habitat for a diversity of economically-important fish species.

References

  1. National Ocean Service (March 25, 2008). "Surface Ocean Currents". noaa.gov. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Archived from the original on July 6, 2017. Retrieved 2017-06-13.
  2. Rahmstorf, S (2003). "The concept of the thermohaline circulation" (PDF). Nature. 421 (6924): 699. Bibcode:2003Natur.421..699R. doi:10.1038/421699a. PMID   12610602.
  3. Lappo, SS (1984). "On reason of the northward heat advection across the Equator in the South Pacific and Atlantic ocean". Study of Ocean and Atmosphere Interaction Processes. Moscow Department of Gidrometeoizdat (in Mandarin): 125–9.
  4. The global ocean conveyor belt is a constantly moving system of deep-ocean circulation driven by temperature and salinity; What is the global ocean conveyor belt?
  5. Primeau, F (2005). "Characterizing transport between the surface mixed layer and the ocean interior with a forward and adjoint global ocean transport model" (PDF). Journal of Physical Oceanography. 35 (4): 545–64. Bibcode:2005JPO....35..545P. doi:10.1175/JPO2699.1.

Further reading