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Subsurface Currents

Subsurface Currents

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Subsurface Currents

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  1. The Oceans in Motion Subsurface Currents

  2. Subsurface Currents • Mechanics • Deep water formation • The Importance of the Global Conveyer Belt

  3. Mechanics • subsurface currents = thermohaline circulation • 90% ocean water moved by subsurface currents • Density driven currents • Gravity is the driving force • Heavier, denser H2O sinks due to gravity • density of H2O cold vs. warm ‘thermo’ fresh vs. salty ‘haline’ • dense H2O sinks and less dense H2O rises (convection on a global scale) • overturn and mixing of the water column, creates an unstable H2O column

  4. Mechanics(cont’d) What is a stable water column? See Fig. 7.4 (Intro 7e) or 7.2a (Fund. 4e) • Salinity increases with depth, temperature decreases with depth • A stable water column is layered or stratified, like a three layered cake

  5. Mechanics(cont’d) Now let’s look at an unstable water column • Salinity uniform with depth, temperature uniform with depth • An unstable water column is not stratified, it is well mixed • Dense water continually sinking

  6. Mechanics(cont’d) • Where is coldest surface water? • at the poles • Where is saltiest surface water? • at the poles • At the poles, the water column is unstable and is well mixed because of sinking cold and salty water NOAA

  7. Deep Water Formation Where is deep water formed? • South Pole off coast of Antarctica • Antarctic Bottom Water (AABW) • 1°C, 34.7 ppt • densest water in the ocean • North Pole off coast of Greenland • North Atlantic Deep Water (NADW) • 3°C, 34.9 ppt • very dense but not as dense as AABW NADW and AABW form at surface, sink and then spread out in horizontal direction at the bottom of the ocean See Fig. 7.6 (Intro 7e) or 7.5 (Fund. 4e)

  8. Deep Water Formation • NADW forms, sinks, flows southward along Atlantic Basin, once reaches Antarctica, flows eastward along continent, mixes with AABW, both H2O masses flow northward into the Indian Ocean and Pacific Oceans • These deep waters gradually warm and mix with other waters and are upwelled in upwelling regions (esp Equatorial upwelling zones) and flow back toward the N. Atlantic • Starts all over again called the “Great Global Conveyor Belt” • this is how H2O circulates throughout the world’s oceans • One turn of the global conveyor belt takes between 1000-1500yrs Global Conveyor Belt American Museum of Natural History

  9. The Importance of the Global Conveyer Belt Why is this important to know about? It is a “heat pump” that sometime exists and sometimes doesn’t Two conditions – ON orOFF • ON • As it is today – the global conveyor belt is turned ON • There is vigorous mixing at the poles (water column is • unstable) • dense surface water is sinking at the poles (very cold surface waters with polar ice caps) • thermohaline circulation is initiated • this is the ‘switch’ that turns the conveyor belt on • As the global conveyor belt returns water to the poles (i.e. via surface • currents), the oceans give off the heat picked up at the lower • latitudes to the land masses at the higher latitudes (i.e. northern Europe) • oceans acting as a ‘heat pump’ to warm the land masses 

  10. The Importance of the Global Conveyer Belt (cont’d) • OFF • As it has been in the past- the global conveyor belt is turned OFF • There is no vigorous mixing at the poles (water column is stable) • there is no dense water sinking at the poles • (surface waters warmed, polar ice caps melt) • thermohaline circulation is not initiated • the global conveyor belt ‘switch’ is turned off • There is no heat pump to warm the land masses • much colder in northern Europe

  11. The Importance of the Global Conveyer Belt (cont’d) Example of when the global conveyor belt has been turned off: • “Younger Dryas”-discovered about 20 years ago • right now we’re in an ice age- we have been for the past 2 million years • last glacial stage ended 11,000 ybp • after last glacial stage ended there was a 2000 year warming period • interrupted by a 700 year return to glacial stage conditions • how do we know? pollen records • forests grew for 2000 years, abruptly stopped (no pollen records) and then resumed growing about 700 years later (pollen records again) • cold snap period known as the ‘Younger Dryas”

  12. The Importance of the Global Conveyer Belt (cont’d) • What do we think happened to cause the ‘Younger Dryas’? • As earth warmed during warming 2000 year warming period • the surface waters also warmed • polar ice caps melted (surface waters less salty) • northern Atlantic surface water less dense • no vigorous mixing, interruption in thermohaline circulation • global conveyor belt turned off • no heat transfer to northern Europe • ice sheets, no forests grow Another example of when the global conveyor belt is turned off: • We also have records of a prolonged period of cold in northern • Europe from 1650-1850 • known as the “Little Ice Age” • could have been caused by an interruption or slow-down in thermohaline circulation, conveyor belt slowed down (sluggish)