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This article gives an overview of the main circulation patterns in the ocean.
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The two main subjects are '''surface ocean currents''' and '''deep-ocean circulation'''.
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This article gives an introduction to the main circulation patterns in the ocean.  
  
  
 
==Introduction==
 
==Introduction==
  
Although [[Tide|tidal]] [[currents]] such as [[waves]] and [[Tide|tides]] are the most obvious water movements to us, their main effects are restricted to very shallow layers. They also can't be detected at the bottom of the [[Deep Sea|deepest oceans]]. But in these deeper waters the more important water movements are those of the global system of oceanic currents. They are crucial in controlling the Earth’s climate.  
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By redistributing heat over the globe, [[Open oceans|ocean]] currents have a major impact on the global climate. They cause the relative mildness of the Western European climate, for example. Ocean and atmospheric currents form a coupled dynamic system. Instabilities of this system, the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) in particular, produce important climate fluctuations. Ocean currents not only distribute heat, but they also play a crucial role in the global ecosystem by storing CO2 and recycling nutrients.
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==Currents==
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There are two main types of ocean currents: currents driven mainly by wind and currents mainly driven by density differences. Density depends on temperature and [[salinity]] of the water. Cold and salty water is dense and will sink. Warm and less salty water will float. Although tidal currents are most prominent in shallow coastal waters, they are of minor importance in the oceans. It should be noted, however, that tides are mainly generated in the oceans (by the gravitational forces of moon and sun) and are amplified when propagating onto the continental shelf.
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==Wind-driven ocean currents==
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===Global wind field===
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The large-scale global wind field consists of dominating westerly winds at latitudes between 30 and 60 degrees in the northern and southern hemispheres (the ''Westerlies'') and dominating easterly winds in the tropical/subtropical zone (the ''Trade winds''). This wind field pattern results from the low atmospheric pressure in the tropics (warm ascending air) and high atmospheric pressure in the subtropics (cooled descending air). The near-surface air flow to the equator at low latitudes and to the poles at high latitudes, resulting from these so-called ''Hadley cells'', is deflected by [[Coriolis acceleration|earth rotation]], hence giving rise to the ''Westerlies'' and the ''Trade winds''.     
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===Surface currents===
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Wind stress generates strong currents (up to several m/s) in the ocean surface layer. The thickness of the surface layer entrained by wind is of the order of 500 meters (about the thickness of the thermocline at low- and mid-latitudes), up to a maximum of 2000 m. Due to [[Coriolis acceleration|earth rotation]] the main ocean current system consists of large anticyclonic [[Gyre|gyres]] (clockwise rotating in the northern hemisphere and anticlockwise in the southern hemisphere) <ref> Munk, W. H. 1950. On the wind-driven ocean circulation. J. Met. 7, 79-93.</ref>. There are five major [[Gyre|gyres]]: the North Atlantic, the South Atlantic, the North Pacific, the South Pacific and the Indian Ocean [[Gyre]], see figure 1.
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The ''Antarctic Circumpolar Current'' is situated in the Southern Ocean and constantly circles around Antarctica because there are no land masses to interrupt the currents. It is an eastward-flowing current driven by the dominant western winds at this latitude.
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[[image: Ocean-Currents gkplanet.jpg |center|thumb|800px|Caption|Fig. 1. Ocean surface currents <ref>http://www.gkplanet.in/2017/05/oceanic-currents-of-world-pdf.html</ref>]]
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The most famous ocean current, the ''Gulf Stream'', is a vast moving mass of water, transporting an enormous amount of heat from the Caribbean across the ocean to Europe. It passes by the US east coast as a narrow jet, due to the northward increase of the [[Coriolis acceleration|Coriolis effect]] <ref>Stommel, H. 1948. The westward intensification of wind-driven ocean currents. Transactions, American Geophysical Union, 29: 202-206.</ref> and then spreads out as a meandering current over the ocean while generating a series of meso-scale eddies and whirls. The North Atlantic Gyre is completed by the ''Canary Current'' in the Eastern Atlantic that transports relatively cold water south and west. The ''Kuroshio'' is a warm boundary current in the north-western Pacific, similar to the ''Gulf Stream''. It is part of the large gyre formed by the ''California Current'' and the ''North Equatorial Current''. The ''North Equatorial Current'' and ''South Equatorial Current'' are driven by the easterly trade winds over the Pacific. The Southern Pacific Gyre is completed by the warm ''West Australian Current'' and the cold ''Peru Current''.
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===Upwelling===
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[[image:Coastal upwelling.jpg|left|thumb|300px|Caption|Fig. 2. Principle of coastal upwelling by [[Coriolis effect|Ekman transport]]. Credit: NOAA.]]
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[[image:Equatorial upwelling.jpg|thumb|right|200px|Caption|Fig. 3. [[Coriolis effect|Ekman transport]] and resulting equatorial upwelling, with rise of the thermocline  <ref>http://www-das.uwyo.edu/~geerts/cwx/notes/chap11/equat_upwel.html</ref>]]
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In regions where [[Coriolis effect|Ekman transport]] deflects the boundary current from the coast, water from the deep ocean rises to the ocean surface, see figure 2. This phenomenon is called 'upwelling' and is very important for enrichment of surface waters with organic matter and nutrients. Upwelling zones are characterized by a very rich marine life with abundant resources for fishery. Upwelling zones exist at the southward flowing boundary currents in the Northern Hemisphere (''California Current'' along the US West Coast, ''Canary Current'' along the West African coast) and at the northward flowing boundary currents in the Southern Hemisphere (''Peru Current'' along the South American West Coast and ''Benguela Current'' along the South African West Coast).    
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Upwelling also occurs at the equator at the Pacific Ocean (''Equatorial upwelling''). The ''North Equatorial Current'' is deflected to the north and the ''South Equatorial current'' to the south as a consequence of the Coriolis effect. This produces upwelling of nutrient rich water and cooling of the surface water near the equator of the Pacific, see figure 3. Downwelling zones exist north and south of the equator.
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===El Nino Southern Oscillation===
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Instability of the coupled ocean-atmosphere dynamics produces large fluctuations in the climate of the Pacific region, which are felt at the global scale. Weakening of the easterly trade winds allows warm water from the Western Pacific to flow back with the ''Equatorial Counter Current'' to the eastern South American boundary, where upwelling currents of cold deep ocean water are shut off. This results in relative warming of the Eastern Pacific (lowering the sea surface atmospheric pressure) and relative cooling of the Western Pacific (increasing the sea surface atmospheric pressure) and hence induces a further weakening of the easterly trade winds. This feedback strengthens the so-called ''El Nino'' phase of the oscillation <ref> Bjerknes, J. 1969. Atmospheric teleconnections from the equatorial Pacific. Mon Weather Rev. 97:163–172.</ref><ref> Wyrtki, K. 1973. Teleconnections in the Equatorial Pacific Ocean. Science 180: 66-68.</ref>. The shut-off of the food-rich upwelling currents has major consequences for marine life and fisheries. <ref>Rice T. 2000. Deep Ocean. The natural history museum, London. </ref>. After a number of years (three on average, but variable) the system sweeps back to the opposite phase, called ''El Nina''. The onset and offset of the oscillation are still not fully understood.
  
==Surface currents==
 
  
Surface currents are mainly driven by the winds. This results in a complicated system dominated by a series of [[Gyre|gyres]] moving clockwise in the northern parts of each ocean and anticlockwise in the south. There are six major [[Gyre|gyres]]: the North Atlantic, the South Atlantic, the North Pacific, the South Pacific, the West Wind Drift and the Indian Ocean [[gyre]].
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==Deep ocean circulation==
The '''West Wind Drift or Antarctic Circumpolar Current''' is situated in the Southern Ocean and constantly circles around Antarctica because there are no land masses to interrupt the currents. It is an eastward-flowing current. In the North Atlantic, the '''Gulf Stream''' transports warm water from the Caribbean along the eastern coast of North America and then flows across the ocean to Europe. This [[gyre]] is completed by the '''Canaries Current''' in the Eastern Atlantic which transports relatively cold water south and west. This water goes back to the Caribbean. The Gulf Stream is a vast moving mass of water, which gives rise to complex eddies and whirls on either side. It transports an enormous amount of heat. This helps to make the climate in North-western Europe much warmer than that at similar latitudes on the other side of the ocean. If this system stops, Europe will be much colder than it is today. In the Pacific, the eastern part of the [[gyre]] consists of the '''Peru Current'''. This current normally flows northwards along the coast of South America and then westwards across the Pacific towards Australia. It is associated with very important fisheries. The anticlockwise [[gyre]] in the southern part of the ocean is included in the phenomenon called '''El Niño'''. This occurs every few years when the system fails. Then the rich Peru Current is displaced by a very poor southward-flowing current. This causes dramatic changes in the marine conditions at the coast of South America and has important effects on the weather in many parts of the world. <ref>Rice T. 2000. Deep Ocean. The natural history museum, London. p. 96</ref>
 
  
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Deep ocean circulation is primarily driven by density differences. It is called ''thermohaline circulation'', because density differences are due to temperature and salinity. Density differences are small and the flow velocity is low, of the order of a few cm/s. However, the water masses moving around by thermohaline circulation are huge. Water fluxes are of the order of 20 million m3/s. Density gradients alone are not sufficient for sustaining the deep ocean circulation. Upwelling and mixing processes, to bring deep ocean water back to the surface, are required too <ref name=S>Rahmstorf, S. 2006. Thermohaline Ocean Circulation. In: Encyclopedia of Quaternary Sciences, Edited by S. A. Elias. Elsevier.</ref>.
  
[[image:Surface currents.JPG|center|thumb|300px|Caption|Surface currents <ref>http://www.oceansonline.com/images/currents.gif</ref>]]
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===Deep water formation===
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The density of surface water increases when frigid air blows during winter across the ocean at high latitudes. The water density increases further by evaporation and by salt expulsion when sea ice is formed. Deep ocean water masses are formed in the Arctic and Antarctic regions by sinking of dense water with a temperature less than 4°C from the surface to great depth. From these regions, a cold deep water layer spreads over the entire ocean basins.
  
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===Conveyor belt===
  
In the Northern hemisphere, warm air around the equator rises and flows north toward the pole. As the air moves away from the equator, the [[coriolis effect]] deflects it toward the right. It cools and descends near 30° N. This descending wind blows from the northeast to the southwest back toward the equator. A similar pattern occurs in the Southern Hemisphere. These prevailing winds are known as the trade winds. The westward directed '''trade winds''' (easterlies) drive important transverse currents (east-west) near the equator. These are the '''North and South Equatorial Currents'''. '''Countercurrents''' return part of the water piled up at the western margins of the ocean basins by the convergent equatorial currents. This is the '''Equatorial Counter Current'''. They are slightly below the the original currents. The '''western boundary currents''' are among the largest and strongest ocean currents. They occur at the western side of an ocean basin or the eastern side of a continent. They are deep and moving fast and transport water and heat to the poles. An example is the Gulf Stream. The '''eastern boundary currents''' transport water from the poles to the equator. They return the water from the western boundary currents, driven by westerly winds. They occur at the eastern side of an ocean basin and are shallower, broader and slower than the western boundary currents. They are also associated with upwelling.
 
The winds from the equator toward the poles are known as '''westerlies'''. They are called westerlies because the wind comes from the west. The global winds drag on the water’s surface, causing it to move and build up in the direction that the wind is blowing. Because of the [[coriolis effect]], the wind-induced surface [[currents]] are deflected to the right in the Northern hemisphere (clockwise spiral) and to the left in the Southern hemisphere (counterclockwise spiral). These spirals are called [[Gyre|gyres]] and are not present at the equator. This is because of the absence of the [[coriolis effect]]. <ref name="multiple">NOAA</ref> <ref>Course Paleoclimatology – Marc De Batist</ref>
 
  
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[[image:AMOC.jpg|thumb|left|400px|Caption|Fig. 4. Schematic representation of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Current.]]
  
[[image:winds1.jpg|center|thumb|250px|Caption|Western and Eastern boundary currents that form gyres  <ref name="multiple">NOAA</ref>]]
 
  
  
==Deep circulation==
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The thermohaline circulation moves water masses around between the different ocean basins <ref> Wüst, G. 1968. History of investigations of the longitudinal deep-sea circulation (1800–1922). Bulletin de l’Institut Oceanographique, Monaco, Numero Special 2, 109–120.</ref><ref> Stommel H. and Arons, A.B. 1960. On the abyssal circulation of the world ocean—II. An idealized model of the circulation pattern and amplitude in oceanic basins. Deep-Sea Research 6: 217–233.</ref>. 'Ocean conveyor belt' is the popular name of this inter-basin circulation. The conveyor belt is fed in the northern North Atlantic with high-salinity water (due to evaporation) supplied by the ''Gulf Stream'', which sinks to great depth after cooling down in the Arctic region, forming the ''North Atlantic Deep Water'' (NADW). The replacement of this dense sinking water generates a continuous surface flow feeding the conveyor belt. The NADW flows from the Arctic region southward, as a deep boundary current along the American shelf <ref> Stommel H., Arons, A.B. and Faller, A.J. 1958. Some examples of stationary flow patterns in bounded basins. Tellus 10 (2): 179–187.</ref>. This current compensates for the net northward surface flow in the Atlantic Ocean. This circulation along the north-south axis is called ''Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation'' (AMOC) , see Fig. 4.
  
At greater depths, a slowly current system stirs the water of the ocean. This is much more important for the animals in the deep sea. It is called the '''thermohaline''' system or '''Conveyor belt'''. These currents are driven the sinking and rising of waters of different density caused by differences in '''salt content''' and particularly '''temperature'''. The water in the deep sea is cold with a potential temperature less than 4°C. The water mass is formed when cold, dense water sinks from the surface to great depths at high latitudes (North Atlantic and Antarctica). From these regions, the water fills the ocean basins. The whole trip takes approximately 1,000 years to complete. The deep water eventually is pulled up by deep mixing and is called '''upwelling'''. This upwelling drives the deep circulation. The vast deep ocean bottom is usually referred to as the [[abyssal plain]] and the circulation as the abyssal circulation. The circulation is important because it mixes the water and keeps its chemistry more or less uniform. It also carries oxygen into the deeper layers. In this way, organisms can survive. The dense water is formed when frigid air blows across the ocean at high latitudes in winter in the Atlantic, between Norway and Greenland, and in Antarctica. The wind cools and evaporates water. If the wind is cool enough, sea ice can form and this increases the salinity of the water because of salt expulsion. Deep water is only formed in the Atlantic Ocean and around Antarctica ('''North Atlantic Deep Water''' (NADW) and '''Antarctic Bottom Water''' (AABW)), but in other polar regions dense water is formed. This water will not sink because it is not salty enough. The only place where water is salty enough to sink is the Mediterranean Sea. The salty water sinks to intermediate depths and spreads out in the Atlantic Ocean. This is called the '''Mediterranean Intermediate water''' (MIW). <ref>http://oceanworld.tamu.edu/resources/ocng_textbook/contents.html</ref> <ref>Pinet P.R. 1998.Invitation to Oceanography. Jones and Barlett Publishers. p. 508</ref>
 
  
  
[[image:Thermohaline_Circulation_2.png|thumb|left|250px|Caption|Thermohaline circulation with cold, dense water in blue and warm, less dense surface water in red. It is a simplified scheme. <ref>http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Study/Paleoclimatology_Evidence/paleoclimatology_evidence_2.html</ref>]]
 
[[image:Water masses.jpg|thumb|none|250px|Caption|Water masses <ref>http://www.geology.um.maine.edu/ges121/lectures/19-ocean-conveyor/NADWcrossection.jpg</ref>]]{{clear}}
 
  
  
==Upwelling==
 
  
Upwelling is a phenomenon that involves wind-driven motion of dense, cooler, and usually nutrient-rich water towards the ocean surface. This water replaces the warmer, usually nutrient-poor surface water. There are several types of upwelling: coastal, equatorial, large scale upwelling in the Southern Ocean, tropical cyclone and non-oceanic (in other fluid environments such as magma) upwelling. Coastal upwelling is the best known type of upwelling. The wind blows parallel to the western coasts of continents and drive surface waters away from the coast ([[Coriolis effect|Ekman effect]]). This surface water is replaces by deep, cold water, which is rich in [[nutrients]] and <math>CO_2</math>. This causes a high [[primary production]]. Upwelling creates more [[phytoplankton]], which creates in their turn rich fish stocks. The most productive areas of the ocean are characterized by upwelling. <ref>http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Upwelling</ref> At the opposite coast, '''downwelling''' is present. The thermocline also rises at the time upwelling is appearing and it is decreasing at the time downwelling is appearing. Downwelling causes water to sink and the water takes the [[nutrients]] with it.  
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The NADW finally joins the ''Antarctic Circumpolar Current'' and enters the Indian and Pacific oceans. The cold dense water from the Antarctic zone fills the deep water layer in these oceans and then gradually rises and mixes with the surface waters of the Indian and Pacific oceans. The mixing of deep ocean water is promoted by strong surface winds, by tides, by upwelling and by abyssal circulation<ref> Stommel H. 1958. The abyssal circulation. Deep-Sea Research 5 (1): 80–82.</ref><ref name=S></ref>. The circulation is finally completed by a warm surface return current to the Atlantic Ocean that passes south of Africa and America, see figure 5. The whole trip takes more than 1,000 years to complete.  
  
  
[[image:Coastal upwelling.jpg|center|thumb|250px|Caption|Coastal upwelling <ref name="multiple">NOAA</ref>]]
 
  
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[[image:ConveyorBelt_Broecker_Maier-Reimer.jpg|thumb|center|500px|Caption|Fig. 5. Simplified scheme of the global thermohaline circulation, adapted from Broecker (1991) <ref. Broecker, W.S. 1991. The Great Ocean conveyor. Oceanography 4 (2), 79–89.</ref>]]
  
'''Equatorial upwelling''' is another type of upwelling. At the Equator, cool and dense water rises and replaces the surface water. It also creates a high density of [[phytoplankton]].
 
At both side of the upwelling, downwelling is caused. This downwelling is the opposite phenomenon of upwelling. When the wind blows more strongly than about 3.5 meters per second, water flows parallel to the wind. This flow is called '''Langmuir circulation'''. Each convection cell is 10 to 15 meters broad, 5 to 6 meters deep and hundreds of meters to several kilometers long. Because of rotation in opposite directions, boundaries between adjoining Langmuir cells alternate between convergent and divergent flow. Floating material (bubbles, oil slicks, floating debris, seaweed) aggregates at the zones of flow convergence and forms a streaked appearance. It is a short-term response to wind drag.
 
  
  
[[image:Equatorial upwelling.jpg|thumb|left|250px|Caption|Equatorial upwelling with the rising thermocline  <ref>http://www-das.uwyo.edu/~geerts/cwx/notes/chap11/equat_upwel.html</ref>]]
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===Importance of deep ocean circulation===
[[image:Langmuir circulation.JPG|none|thumb|250px|Caption|Langmuir circulation <ref name="multiple">NOAA</ref>]]
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The deep ocean is a huge storehouse of heat, carbon, oxygen and nutrients. Deep ocean circulation regulates uptake, distribution and release of these elements. The low overturning rate stabilizes our global climate. By carrying oxygen into the deeper layers it supports the largest habitat on earth.
  
  
==Further reading==
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===Deep ocean circulation and climate change===
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Present theories for explaining the deep ocean circulation predict that global warming will have a negative impact on the deep ocean circulation, especially in the northern Atlantic <ref> Broecker, W. S. 2003. Does the trigger for abrupt climate change reside in the ocean or in the atmosphere? Science 300: 1519–1522.</ref>. The formation of dense sinking surface water in the Arctic region will be counteracted by a higher atmospheric temperature and by release of fresh water by ice melting. The feeding of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, which drives warm ''Gulf Stream'' waters to the north, will thus be reduced.  It is expected that this will have a significant cooling effect on the West European climate.
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[[Coriolis effect]]
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==Related articles==
  
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* [[Open oceans]]
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* [[Open ocean habitat]]
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* [[Shelf sea exchange with the ocean]]
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* [[Coriolis effect]]
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* [[Coriolis acceleration]]
  
  

Versie van 21 apr 2018 om 16:17




This article gives an introduction to the main circulation patterns in the ocean.


Introduction

By redistributing heat over the globe, ocean currents have a major impact on the global climate. They cause the relative mildness of the Western European climate, for example. Ocean and atmospheric currents form a coupled dynamic system. Instabilities of this system, the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) in particular, produce important climate fluctuations. Ocean currents not only distribute heat, but they also play a crucial role in the global ecosystem by storing CO2 and recycling nutrients.


Currents

There are two main types of ocean currents: currents driven mainly by wind and currents mainly driven by density differences. Density depends on temperature and salinity of the water. Cold and salty water is dense and will sink. Warm and less salty water will float. Although tidal currents are most prominent in shallow coastal waters, they are of minor importance in the oceans. It should be noted, however, that tides are mainly generated in the oceans (by the gravitational forces of moon and sun) and are amplified when propagating onto the continental shelf.


Wind-driven ocean currents

Global wind field

The large-scale global wind field consists of dominating westerly winds at latitudes between 30 and 60 degrees in the northern and southern hemispheres (the Westerlies) and dominating easterly winds in the tropical/subtropical zone (the Trade winds). This wind field pattern results from the low atmospheric pressure in the tropics (warm ascending air) and high atmospheric pressure in the subtropics (cooled descending air). The near-surface air flow to the equator at low latitudes and to the poles at high latitudes, resulting from these so-called Hadley cells, is deflected by earth rotation, hence giving rise to the Westerlies and the Trade winds.

Surface currents

Wind stress generates strong currents (up to several m/s) in the ocean surface layer. The thickness of the surface layer entrained by wind is of the order of 500 meters (about the thickness of the thermocline at low- and mid-latitudes), up to a maximum of 2000 m. Due to earth rotation the main ocean current system consists of large anticyclonic gyres (clockwise rotating in the northern hemisphere and anticlockwise in the southern hemisphere) [1]. There are five major gyres: the North Atlantic, the South Atlantic, the North Pacific, the South Pacific and the Indian Ocean Gyre, see figure 1. The Antarctic Circumpolar Current is situated in the Southern Ocean and constantly circles around Antarctica because there are no land masses to interrupt the currents. It is an eastward-flowing current driven by the dominant western winds at this latitude.


Fig. 1. Ocean surface currents [2]


The most famous ocean current, the Gulf Stream, is a vast moving mass of water, transporting an enormous amount of heat from the Caribbean across the ocean to Europe. It passes by the US east coast as a narrow jet, due to the northward increase of the Coriolis effect [3] and then spreads out as a meandering current over the ocean while generating a series of meso-scale eddies and whirls. The North Atlantic Gyre is completed by the Canary Current in the Eastern Atlantic that transports relatively cold water south and west. The Kuroshio is a warm boundary current in the north-western Pacific, similar to the Gulf Stream. It is part of the large gyre formed by the California Current and the North Equatorial Current. The North Equatorial Current and South Equatorial Current are driven by the easterly trade winds over the Pacific. The Southern Pacific Gyre is completed by the warm West Australian Current and the cold Peru Current.


Upwelling

Fig. 2. Principle of coastal upwelling by Ekman transport. Credit: NOAA.
Fig. 3. Ekman transport and resulting equatorial upwelling, with rise of the thermocline [4]

In regions where Ekman transport deflects the boundary current from the coast, water from the deep ocean rises to the ocean surface, see figure 2. This phenomenon is called 'upwelling' and is very important for enrichment of surface waters with organic matter and nutrients. Upwelling zones are characterized by a very rich marine life with abundant resources for fishery. Upwelling zones exist at the southward flowing boundary currents in the Northern Hemisphere (California Current along the US West Coast, Canary Current along the West African coast) and at the northward flowing boundary currents in the Southern Hemisphere (Peru Current along the South American West Coast and Benguela Current along the South African West Coast).


Upwelling also occurs at the equator at the Pacific Ocean (Equatorial upwelling). The North Equatorial Current is deflected to the north and the South Equatorial current to the south as a consequence of the Coriolis effect. This produces upwelling of nutrient rich water and cooling of the surface water near the equator of the Pacific, see figure 3. Downwelling zones exist north and south of the equator.


El Nino Southern Oscillation

Instability of the coupled ocean-atmosphere dynamics produces large fluctuations in the climate of the Pacific region, which are felt at the global scale. Weakening of the easterly trade winds allows warm water from the Western Pacific to flow back with the Equatorial Counter Current to the eastern South American boundary, where upwelling currents of cold deep ocean water are shut off. This results in relative warming of the Eastern Pacific (lowering the sea surface atmospheric pressure) and relative cooling of the Western Pacific (increasing the sea surface atmospheric pressure) and hence induces a further weakening of the easterly trade winds. This feedback strengthens the so-called El Nino phase of the oscillation [5][6]. The shut-off of the food-rich upwelling currents has major consequences for marine life and fisheries. [7]. After a number of years (three on average, but variable) the system sweeps back to the opposite phase, called El Nina. The onset and offset of the oscillation are still not fully understood.


Deep ocean circulation

Deep ocean circulation is primarily driven by density differences. It is called thermohaline circulation, because density differences are due to temperature and salinity. Density differences are small and the flow velocity is low, of the order of a few cm/s. However, the water masses moving around by thermohaline circulation are huge. Water fluxes are of the order of 20 million m3/s. Density gradients alone are not sufficient for sustaining the deep ocean circulation. Upwelling and mixing processes, to bring deep ocean water back to the surface, are required too [8].

Deep water formation

The density of surface water increases when frigid air blows during winter across the ocean at high latitudes. The water density increases further by evaporation and by salt expulsion when sea ice is formed. Deep ocean water masses are formed in the Arctic and Antarctic regions by sinking of dense water with a temperature less than 4°C from the surface to great depth. From these regions, a cold deep water layer spreads over the entire ocean basins.

Conveyor belt

Fig. 4. Schematic representation of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Current.


The thermohaline circulation moves water masses around between the different ocean basins [9][10]. 'Ocean conveyor belt' is the popular name of this inter-basin circulation. The conveyor belt is fed in the northern North Atlantic with high-salinity water (due to evaporation) supplied by the Gulf Stream, which sinks to great depth after cooling down in the Arctic region, forming the North Atlantic Deep Water (NADW). The replacement of this dense sinking water generates a continuous surface flow feeding the conveyor belt. The NADW flows from the Arctic region southward, as a deep boundary current along the American shelf [11]. This current compensates for the net northward surface flow in the Atlantic Ocean. This circulation along the north-south axis is called Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) , see Fig. 4.




The NADW finally joins the Antarctic Circumpolar Current and enters the Indian and Pacific oceans. The cold dense water from the Antarctic zone fills the deep water layer in these oceans and then gradually rises and mixes with the surface waters of the Indian and Pacific oceans. The mixing of deep ocean water is promoted by strong surface winds, by tides, by upwelling and by abyssal circulation[12][8]. The circulation is finally completed by a warm surface return current to the Atlantic Ocean that passes south of Africa and America, see figure 5. The whole trip takes more than 1,000 years to complete.


Fig. 5. Simplified scheme of the global thermohaline circulation, adapted from Broecker (1991) <ref. Broecker, W.S. 1991. The Great Ocean conveyor. Oceanography 4 (2), 79–89.</ref>


Importance of deep ocean circulation

The deep ocean is a huge storehouse of heat, carbon, oxygen and nutrients. Deep ocean circulation regulates uptake, distribution and release of these elements. The low overturning rate stabilizes our global climate. By carrying oxygen into the deeper layers it supports the largest habitat on earth.


Deep ocean circulation and climate change

Present theories for explaining the deep ocean circulation predict that global warming will have a negative impact on the deep ocean circulation, especially in the northern Atlantic [13]. The formation of dense sinking surface water in the Arctic region will be counteracted by a higher atmospheric temperature and by release of fresh water by ice melting. The feeding of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, which drives warm Gulf Stream waters to the north, will thus be reduced. It is expected that this will have a significant cooling effect on the West European climate.


Related articles


References

  1. Munk, W. H. 1950. On the wind-driven ocean circulation. J. Met. 7, 79-93.
  2. http://www.gkplanet.in/2017/05/oceanic-currents-of-world-pdf.html
  3. Stommel, H. 1948. The westward intensification of wind-driven ocean currents. Transactions, American Geophysical Union, 29: 202-206.
  4. http://www-das.uwyo.edu/~geerts/cwx/notes/chap11/equat_upwel.html
  5. Bjerknes, J. 1969. Atmospheric teleconnections from the equatorial Pacific. Mon Weather Rev. 97:163–172.
  6. Wyrtki, K. 1973. Teleconnections in the Equatorial Pacific Ocean. Science 180: 66-68.
  7. Rice T. 2000. Deep Ocean. The natural history museum, London.
  8. 8,0 8,1 Rahmstorf, S. 2006. Thermohaline Ocean Circulation. In: Encyclopedia of Quaternary Sciences, Edited by S. A. Elias. Elsevier.
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The main author of this article is TÖPKE, Katrien
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Citation: TÖPKE, Katrien (2018): Ocean circulation. Available from http://www.coastalwiki.org/wiki/Ocean_circulation [accessed on 20-06-2018]