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Atmosphere-Ocean Coupling and Surface

Circulation of the Ocean



Ancient Greek philosophers viewed the ocean beyond the ocean constitute a single dynamic circulatory system under-
Mediterranean Sea as a great river, Oceanus Fluvius, which going constant convective motion driven by radiant heat from
they considered to be directly related to the Earth (Ge) and the Sun. The importance of this system to the well-being of
the sky (Uranus). Today, we recognize that surface circulation our planet cannot be overemphasized. The constant physical
of the global ocean is largely the product of so-called zonal and chemical exchanges between the ocean and the atmo-
winds, the Earth’s rotation, differences in the density of sea- sphere govern the tempo and mode of both marine and terres-
water, and the spatial constraints imposed by continents. The trial environments on all scales, and thus control the funda-
direct link between the motion of the atmosphere and the mental character of the surface of the Earth. The goal of this
surface ocean is apparent to anyone watching wind-whipped chapter is to provide an understanding of the dynamic inter-
storm waves crash on a beach. Even when local winds are play between the atmosphere and the ocean, with an empha-
calm, drifting objects offer direct evidence that the surface of sis on the basic processes controlling the surface circulation
the sea is in constant motion. Viewed on a global scale, the of the ocean. The following chapter reviews circulation of the
Earth’s intimately coupled gaseous atmosphere and liquid deep ocean and considers ocean circulation in its entirety.

lthough the ocean covers 71 percent of the Earth’s aiding merchant shipping from North America to England in
surface and constitutes the dominant and defining the process.
environment of our planet, we are only now becom- By 1837-40, the German geographer Heinrich Berghaus
ing familiar with how it circulates and what lies had assembled the first truly comprehensive maps depicting
beneath its surface. The very dimensions of the ocean have major surface currents of the world oceans aided by the ob-
until very recently stood as a primary obstacle to understand- servations of other scientists including Alexander von Hum-
ing the circulation of this immense body of water, despite its boldt. At approximately this same time, the importance of
obvious importance to human affairs ranging from suste- commercial whaling led the government of the United States
nance and commerce to climate prediction. The earliest writ- to support an “exploring expedition.” This global voyage was
ten records make it clear that the seagoing Phoenicians ap- led by Commander Charles Wilkes, who published a five-
plied their knowledge of wind and current patterns in the volume report in 1845. This study included a remarkably
Mediterranean Sea and elsewhere for both war and trade, accurate map of global surface circulation, which, for various
information no doubt hard won at sea and patiently accu- reasons, received little attention. Subsequently, one of
mulated to their advantage over the centuries. Prior to the Wilkes’s younger cohorts, Lieutenant Matthew F. Maury, set
launching of Earth-observing satellites, any attempt to gain about synthesizing information on winds, currents, and
an overview of the surface circulation of the ocean involved ocean temperatures recorded in a huge collection of ships’
the same strategy presumably employed by the Phoenicians logbooks that had been stored, but little used, by the U.S.
some 3000 years ago - laborious compilation of observations Navy. Maury’s efforts yielded a fresh set of maps and track
made aboard individual ships at sea in order to obtain the charts depicting global patterns of winds and surface cur-
larger picture. In fact, knowledge gained in this manner by rents. These maps and charts were widely distributed and had
American sailors allowed Benjamin Franklin to publish the an immediate positive impact on maritime trade and selec-
first map of a major ocean current, the Gulf Stream, in 1769, tion of sailing routes (Fig. 10.1). The usefulness of Maury’s

W. G. Ernst (ed.), Erzrth Systems: Procr.ssc.s rwrl fwrc~~. Printed in the United States of America. Copyright 0
2000 Cambridge University Press. All rights reserved.

the globe from 1872 to 1876. Among the manp
scientific firsts accomplished during the Ch&
Ienger expedition were measurements of terns _
perature, salinity, and density at 362 deep-sea
stations, yielding some of the first insights into .$
the layered structure and circulation, of the 3
deep sea. This circumglobal cruise was the irn- -<
petus for a number of later expeditions, and !
the collection of many additional measure8 e:
However, it was the advent of surface and
submarine warfare during World Wars I and 11
that accelerated research into all aspects of
physical oceanography and ocean circulation,
This latter research peaked during the Cold
War years of 1950-90, as ever more sophisti-
cated acoustic technology was employed to de-
termine the detailed density structure of the
ocean as a means to detect enemy vessels and
operate effectively in the submarine environ-
ment (as dramatically fictionalized in Tom
Figure 10.2. Satellite view of the Earth centered over Africa and Clancey’s 1984 novel The Hunt forRed October}.
emphasizing the dominance of the ocean environment. Thick Despite all the advances in sampling and
swirls of clouds in the lower half of this photograph mark storm measuring properties of the surface and deep ocean from
systems and winds driving the West Wind Drift (also known as the 1950s to the present, it is the synoptic observations of
the Circum-Antarctic Current) eastward around the ice-covered
continent of Antarctica (clearly visible at the bottom of the the Earth from satellites that have allowed a quantum leap
gwiR). The a’lc d 5pott-r’ ,&xl& ranging Ttcx65 the AeiYiic in QUK un&~stanting of c~upkd atmosphere-ocean &a&-
Ocean, central Africa, and the Indian Ocean just above the mid- tion (Fig. 10.2). Satellite observations became routinely avail-
line of the photograph represent the equatorial zone of rising able in 1960 with the launching of 77ROS, which photo-
warm, moist air and low-pressure storm cells associated with the graphed the Earth’s weather patterns and forever changed
intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ). Areas of clear sky over
southwest Africa and the desert areas of North Africa, the Red our view of the ocean and the world. Monitoring of electro-
Sea, and the Persian Gulf constitute mid-latitude zones of de- magnetic radiation from various Earth environments was in-
scending dry air, which increases in temperature through con- itiated by the LANDSAT satellites beginning in 1972, fol-
duction and high pressure (adiabatic compression) as it ap- lowed by the NIMBUS satellites from 1978 through 1984.
proaches Earth’s surface. Clear air over Antarctica is due to NIMBUS instruments provided quantitative measurements of
extremely cold, dense, dry air descending over the polar region.
(Source: Photograph courtesy of NASA.) ocean productivity, water vapor in the atmosphere, ice cov-
erage, and a host of other parameters reflecting aspects of
ocean circulation and climate. SEASAT, the first satellite de-
charts led to the first attempt to standardize oceanographic voted exclusively to oceanographic observations, was also
observations aboard all sailing vessels. Among his other ac- launched in 1978 but operated for only three months. De-
complishments, Maury also produced the first bathymetric spite the premature failure of SEASAT, its radar provided the
(depth) chart of a portion of the Atlantic Ocean based on first synoptic observations of ocean wave patterns and sur-
primitive sounding by U.S. Navy vessels under his direction. face winds along with measurements of sea surface tempera-
In 1855, Maury summarized his work in a volume entitled ture and elevation.
the Physical Geography of Sea, which was reprinted several In 1992, the French-U.S. TOPEXPoseidon satellite was
times to meet demand and translated into several languages. launched into orbit for the purpose of observing and sensing
However, many of his attempts to explain ocean and atmos- the ocean - the first such satellite since ill-fated SEASAT. The
pheric circulation were naive and speculative, and therefore high-altitude orbit of TOPEXLF’oseidon allows it to observe
were much criticized by the scientific community, despite over 95 percent of the ice-free ocean every ten days. Instru-
the value of his charts for improved sailing. ments aboard the satellite are capable of measuring a range
Although progress continued in amassing data on surface of ocean parameters with unprecedented accuracy, including
circulation, little was known about the deep sea, and another wind speed and direction, surface currents, and minute vari-
century passed before the first modern maps depicting the ations in the height of the sea surface reflecting both aspects
floor of the ocean appeared. In the intervening years, the of wind-driven ocean circulation and the effect of the Earth’s
modern science of oceanography took shape, spurred by rotation and gravity. Significantly, the first analyses of TO-
the results of the HMS Challenger expedition, which circled PEX/Poseidon data are only recently appearing in the scien-

tific literature; it is fair to say that 1992 marked a watershed at high latitudes move equatorward. Complex and little-
moment in our ability to observe and understand ocean cir- understood feedback loops characterize these processes and
culation, comparable to the scientific threshold crossed when assure that any change in the behavior of the atmosphere or
the C?zaZZenger expedition set sail over a century ago. ocean will have profound consequences for the circulation
of both systems. The hypersensitive interrelationships be-
THE AIR AND SEA IN MOTION tween the atmosphere and the ocean are dramatically illus-
trated by the global weather extremes associated with El
The most important role of the atmosphere-ocean system is Nifio/Southem Oscillation (ENSO) conditions, which appear
the redistribution of excess solar heat that the Earth receives approximately every seven years in the Pacific region and
in the equatorial and mid-latitude regions (Fig. 10.3). The elsewhere.
atmosphere carries heat in the form of latent heat of evapo- At the initiation of an El Niiio event, the large, atmos-
ration (e.g., water vapor) as well as sensible heat (the sort pheric high-pressure zone normally present over the South
measured with a thermometer), whereas the ocean carries Pacific weakens while the large, low-pressure system operat-
heat only in the sensible form. Most of the Sun’s radiant heat ing over the Indian Ocean becomes stronger. In turn, equa-
energy arriving at the sea surface goes into breaking the weak torial trade winds weaken, and the thick mound or wedge of
hydrogen bonds between individual water molecules and warm water normally maintained by these winds in the west-
evaporating seawater, not into raising the temperature of the em Pacific is allowed to flow eastward toward the Pacific
water. This process is a function of the polar character of the coasts of the Americas. The arrival of the warm surface water
water molecule and reflects the fact that the heat capacity of in the eastern Pacific disrupts normal upwelling of cold
water (e.g., heat absorbed divided by temperature rise) is the nutrient-rich waters, causing the temporary collapse of fish-
highest of ail solids and liquids, with the exception of liquid eries, exceptional storms, high rainfall and flooding, and
ammonia. Thus, the great volume and heat capacity of sea- even a rise in local sea level. The consequences of a sustained
water allows the ocean to store enormous amounts of solar El Nifio event include associated changes in the positions of
heat and release it slowly back to the atmosphere by conduc- the atmospheric jet streams and disruption of normal
tion at the air-sea interface. This process, along with the weather patterns on a global scale, translating to billions of
continuous evaporation and condensation of seawater by the dollars in storm, drought, and agricultural damage, as well as
atmosphere, serve to w the surface tenspcrrature af the lost lives and subsequent Yeats af recovery, There is cl.ea.rLy a
Earth within a range allowing life as we know it to thrive. need to understand the details of ocean-atmosphere interac-
Clearly, the ocean plays a critical role in maintaining a life- tions, and these processes represent frontier areas of ongoing
friendly climate on our planet. ocean research.
Circulation of the atmosphere and ocean represents the Aspects of atmosphere-ocean coupling are intuitively
never-ending quest nature of these two systems collectively straightforward; the wind blows and the sea’s surface is
to establish thermal equilibrium between the poles and the moved, resulting in wind-driven surface circulation. However,
equator - a goal they will never reach thanks to unequal the wind effectively stirs only a relatively thin layer of surface
distribution of the Sun’s heat over the curved surface of the water, commonly no more than 100 meters in thickness.
Earth, the Earth’s constantly changing climate, and the slow Contrary to common thinking, the bulk of the water in the
but unceasing tectonic rearrangement of continents and oceanic bowl is not stirred by the wind but is gravity-induced
ocean basins. Air and water heated in the tropics and sub- and circulates as a function of variations in the temperature,
tropics are transported poleward, while water and air cooled salinity, and density of individual water masses. Therefore,

N 90” f-1
60” Heat
30” Elgnre 10.3. Net gain and loss of solar
Heat energy (heat) at the top of the Earth’s
gain atmosphere and at the surface of the
Earth. Solar energy received at the sur-
face (insolation) is unevenly distributed
across latitude as a function of the cur-
vature of the Earth and atmospheric ef-
fects. See text for discussion.

60” Heat
s 90” loss 0 300 600
Solar energy (heat) - cal./cm2/min

circulation of the deep ocean is referred to as thermohaline a pot of heated water on a stove. Water heated at the bottom
circuZation (“thenno” means “temperature,” and “haline” of the pot expands as molecules become more active, de-
means “related to salinity or salt content”), a subject consid- creases in density, and rises to the surface where it cools,
ered in Chapter 11. Although only a relatively thin layer of increases in density, and sinks to the bottom of the pot,
the surface ocean is directly moved by the wind, global pat- where the process begins again. With sufficient heat and
terns of surface circulation and air-sea interaction control time, the result of this process is a rolling boil - vigorous
much of the ocean’s physical, chemical, and biologic char- circulation will have been induced through changes in the ternper-
acter at all depths. ature and density of the water without any mechanical help from
Convective and advective processes are responsible for a spoon. Just as the rate of boil in a pot of water can be
heat transport and motion of discrete air and water masses modulated by adjusting the stove-top flame, any changes in
within the atmosphere and the ocean (Fig. 10.2). Advection the pole-to-equator thermal gradient over time result in in-
refers to changes in the property of an air mass or water mass creasing or decreasing rates of convective circulation within
by virtue of bodily motion. The term is often restricted to the the atmosphere and ocean. The steepest pole-to-equator ther-
horizontal motion of air or ocean water but can also apply to mal gradients occur when the Earth is in a glacial mode, and
vertical motion. Water or air in motion is advectively trans- evidence suggests that these periods are indeed characterized
porting heat or other properties of the fluid regardless of how by increased rates of atmospheric and ocean circulation.
the motion was initiated, whether through mechanical Conversely, periods in Earth history when the polar regions
means (e.g., one moving air mass pushing another) or by remain ice-free and relatively warm are marked by shallow
gravity-driven convection. A simple analogy is the initiation pole-to-equator thermal gradients and relatively slow ocean-
of motion by stirring water in a pot with a spoon. In contrast, atmosphere circulation.
convective motion is self-initiated whenever a fluid or air The convective and advective processes operating in the
mass experiences changes in density (e.g., change in mass atmosphere cause air masses to rise and sink, generating var-
per unit volume, measured in grams, per cubic centimeter) as iations in atmospheric pressure at the surface of the Earth. In
a function of variations in temperature, composition, or pres- turn, winds are generated as air rushes from areas of high
sure and is a response to gravity acting upon these changes. pressure to areas of low pressure. Winds developed in the
As a given mass of air or water is heated, molecular activity lower atmosphere transfer their energy and momentum to
increases and it expands, taking up more space (e.g., specific the surface layer of the ocean through friction at the air-sea
volume or volume per unit mass), with a consequent de- interface. Not surprisingly, global patterns of surface circula-
crease in its density. The change to lower density causes the tion in the ocean reflect the direction and strength of winds
air or water mass to rise within the density-stratified column (i.e., wind stress) in the lower atmosphere. This is the case no
of the atmosphere or ocean to a level commensurate with its matter what the configuration of continental masses might
new density. Conversely, a parcel of cold, dense air or water
will sink in the density-stratified column to a level where it
is surrounded by air or water of similar density and underlain
by fluid of greater density.
The high angle of the Sun’s rays or solar beam with Earth
and the round shape of the Earth ensure that most of the
radiant solar heat or energy is received between 30” N and S
of the equator (Fig. 10.3). In contrast, the polar regions ex-
perience a constant heat deficit due to the low angle of the
Sun’s rays at high latitudes and heat loss through back radi-
ation to space. The unequal distribution of heat results in a
significant difference in temperature, or thermal gradient,
between the equator and the polar regions regardless of
whether the Earth is in a glacial or nonglacial climatic mode.
The greater the difference in temperature between the poles
and the equator, the steeper the thermal gradient. The ever
changing pole-to-equator thermal gradient, together with
subtle but critical changes in the density layered structure of
the atmosphere and the ocean, maintain constant convective
motion in both systems. The steeper the pole-to-equator
thermal gradient, the faster the rate of atmosphere-ocean
convection and circulation, and vice versa. (See the box en-
titled The Dynamic Energy Balance of the Earth.)
The overall pattern of atmosphere-ocean convective cir-
culation thus mimics the familiar convective motion seen in

be over geologic time. However, tectonically induced Density stratification in the ocean is the product of varia-
changes in the number, shapes, and locations of continents tions in temperature, salinity, and pressure with depth. Den-
and ocean basins over geologic time play an equally large sity (measured in grams per cubic centimeter) increases with
role in modulating ocean circulation, in turn emphasizing decreasing temperature, increasing salinity, and increasing
the intimate link between the behavior of internal (endo- pressure; density decreases with increasing temperature, de-
genie) and external (exogenic) Earth systems over periods of creasing salinity, and decreasing pressure. A plot illustrating
millions of years. the range of variation in temperature and salinity demon-
strates that the modern ocean has an average temperature of
THE LAYERED STRUCTURE OF THE only approximately 3.5X, reflecting the high-latitude origin
ATMOSPHERE AND OCEAN of most of the water filling the ocean basins (Fig. 10.4). Tem-
peratures in the open ocean range from a low of -2°C to a
Many people enjoying a summer swim in a lake or the ocean high of approximately 32°C exceeding the much narrower
have experienced the strange sensation of having their upper range of salinity. Salinity represents the amount of salt in a
body in comfortably warm surface water while their legs dan- given volume of water and is routinely measured in terms of
gle in cold water below - a clear example of the thermal and parts per thousand (O/O). The ocean exhibits an average salin-
density stratification of a water column. The warmer, less ity of approximately 35 parts per thousand. Pressure due to
dense water floats on top of denser, cold water with a sharp the weight of the overlying water column becomes a signifi-
temperature and density boundary dividing the two layers. cant factor affecting the calculation of density only at depths
Convective circulation of the atmosphere and ocean is de- greater than 1000 meters and is generally discounted at shal-
pendent upon variations in the density of the various air and lower depths. Thus,
water masses. Both systems exhibit a layered structure, with parameters governing the density of seawater, and both vary
the heaviest or densest air and water residing in the bottom horizontally and vertically in the ocean (Fig. 10.5). Even a
of the atmosphere and the bottom of the ocean, respectively. minute change in either or both of these parameters in a
Because of density stratification, horizontal motion domi- given parcel of water translates to a significant change in its
nates both systems. Areas of vertical motion are limited to density. The relatively narrow range of temperatures and sa-
zones where advective or convective processes introduce in- linities in the ocean means that scientists must precisely cal-
stabilities in the air or water column through rapjd changes culate very small differences in density, a calculation typi-
in temperature or other parameters, causing the air or water cally carried out to five places and then converted to a
to rise or sink. Although zones of vertical motion in the density factor termed sigma-t for convenience. For example,
atmosphere and ocean are limited in area1 extent, they are a calculated density of 1.02532 grams per centimeter would
critically important. be converted to a sigma-t value of 25.32 for ease of plotting
The Earth’s gravity maintains the highest density of at- and manipulation.
mospheric gases immediately adjacent to the Earth’s surface, Clearly, any process controlling the temperature or salin-
accompanied by high atmospheric pressures (this phenome- ity of seawater has the capacity to change the density of the
non is manifest in the annoying ear pressure change felt
during an airplane landing or a rapid descent down a moun-
tain road). Atmospheric gases thin and pressure and density Figure 10.4. Range of temperature and salinity in the global
decrease with increasing altitude above the Earth’s surface. ocean, as illustrated by contours enclosing values for 99 and 75
The atmosphere can be divided into four major layers based percent of all the water in the ocean. The range of salinity is
relatively narrow compared with that of temperature. The very
on the systematic changes in its temperature, beginning with cold average temperature of the ocean reflects the high-latitude
the near-surface troposphere and followed by the strato- origin of most of the water in the deep ocean. (Source: Adapted
sphere, mesosphere, and thermosphere. The lowest layer, the from M. G. Gross and E. Gross, Oceanography, 7th edition. Engle-
troposphere, contains 75 percent by mass of all the gases in wood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1996.)
the atmosphere, along with most of the water vapor and the Average salinity = 34.7%0
majority of clouds, dust, and so forth. The lower atmosphere
is heated both by release of latent heat when water vapor
condenses into clouds and rain, and by conduction from the Average
surface of the Earth (in the same manner that your hand is surface
heated when you place it on a hot surface). Latitudinal vari- 1( temperature
= 17S”C
ations in the surface temperature of the Earth as well as
seasonal variations in temperature at any given location Average
maintain constant thermal instability in the troposphere. d temperature
Convective motion in the troposphere spawns the Earth’s = 3S”C

weather, and this layer contains the major surface wind sys-
tems of primary importance to oceanographers studying 35
ocean circulation. Salinity (%0)

Sea Surface Temperature (“C)

I 60

Sea Surface Salinity (o/o)

Figure 10.5. Generalized patterns of ocean surface (A) tempera- tively, isotherms are torqued north and south along continental
tures and (B)salinities in August (Northern Hemisphere summer). margins, reflecting displacement by surface currents in these
Lines of equal temperature (isotherms) and equal salinity (iso- regions. (Sotrrce: Goode Base Maps, courtesy University of Chi-
halines) tend to parallel latitude in the open ocean. Alterna- cage.)

water and in turn, its position in the oceanic water column. izes the equatorial areas, cold, dense water is formed in polar
Significantly, most variations in temperature and salinity in regions as surface water arriving from lower latitudes is
the ocean as a whole initially occur at the sea surface through cooled. Variations in salinity also play a major role in creat-
heating, cooling, evaporation, precipitation, and freezing ing differences in density of individual water masses, In the
(Figs. 10.5 and 10.6). The distribution of surface temperature highest latitudes, seawater is frozen; sea ice begins to form at
reflects the pole-to-equator thermal gradient and patterns of a temperature of approximately -1°C. Because salt is ex-
wind-driven surface circulation. The temperature of a parcel cluded during the formation of ice crystals, the salinity of
of surface water can vary as a function of its latitudinal posi- the remaining unfrozen water increases, in turn lowering its
tion, mixing with water of different temperature, or resi- freezing temperature and increasing its density, due to this
dence time in a given locality. Warm, light water character- increase in density, the unfrozen water sinks. The salinity of

Variations in temperature, salinity, and density with

depth in a hypothetical mid-latitude column of ocean water
clearly define the three basic layers or zones common to much
of the world ocean: the surface, intermediate, and deep layers
(Fig. 10.7). In some areas, a fourth layer is present in the form
of Antarctic Bottom Water, representing the very cold and
relatively saline, high-density water derived from the freezing
of seawater around the margins of Antarctica. The surface or
1.0280 36 mixed Zayer is the product of stirring and turbulent mixing by
the wind. Although the surface layer can vary between 50
1.0260 and 500 meters in thickness, frictional decrease in velocity
G with depth on average limits wind-induced motion to only
g 1.0240 3 4 W) the upper 100 meters of the ocean and in the process defines
the limits of the mixed layer. The range of temperature and
salinity in the surface layer are relatively constant at any
32 given location, reflecting latitudinal location, mixing with
the atmosphere, wetness of the overlying atmosphere (i.e.,
humid versus dry air), and seasonal
_ --- variations. For example,
a shallow seasonal thermocline or temperature gradient com-
monly develops within the surface layer as summer warming
heats near-surface water. Although the surface layer contains
only approximately 2 percent of all the water in the ocean, it
is arguably the most important part of the ocean in terms of
the physical, chemical, and biologic processes that control
the activity and character of the ocean as a whole.
N- 7 0 ” 4 0 ” 2 0 ” 0” 20” In contrast to seasonal variations in temperature within
Latitude the se layer, the pm themuKline (Ykwmlo”means
Figure 10.6. Variation of sea surface temperature, salinity, and “temperature,” and “cline” means “gradient”) begins at the
density with latitude and average annual patterns of precipita- base of the surface layer and extends on average to a depth
tion (rain) and evaporation at the sea surface. A correlation exists of approximately 1000 meters (Fig. 10.7). The top of the
between areas of excess precipitation beneath the polar frontal
thermocline is commonly associated with the 15°C isotherm
zones (approximately 50 to 60” N and S) and the equatorial
region with areas of depressed surface salinities. Similarly, there (i.e., the line of equal temperature) in mid-latitude locations,
is a clear relationship between areas of excess evaporation asso- with the base of this zone generally marked by the 4 or 5°C
ciated with mid-latitude high-pressure zones (approximately 30” isotherm. A well-developed permanent thermocline is pres-
N and S) and relatively higher surface salinities. The slight offset ent in most of the ocean but is absent in polar regions where
of the equatorial zone of excess precipitation to the north of the
surface temperatures remain very cold throughout the year.
geographic equator reflects the northward displacement of
the so-called meteorologic equator (e.g., the east-west line of The permanent thermocline is commonly accompanied by
hypothetical thermal equilibrium between hemispheres located an equally dramatic hdocline representing a significant in-
approximately 5” north of the geographic equator) and the inter- crease in the salinity of water across these same depths. The
tropical convergence zone (see Fig. 10.8). g/cm3 = grams per rapid changes in temperature and salinity associated with the
cubic centimeter; cm/yr = centimeters per year; 9;60 = parts per thermocline and halocline combine to produce an accompa-
nying gradient in the density of the intermediate water
termed the pycnocline. The pycnocline layer or zone contains
approximately 18 percent of the water in the ocean and
surface water is also increased in the mid-latitudes as a func- serves to separate the relatively dynamic surface layer from
tion of evaporation. Conversely, high precipitation in equa- the very cold, dense, and relatively stable water residing in
torial and subpolar areas decreases the salinity of surface wa- the deep ocean.
ters in these regions. The mixing of water masses of different The deepest of the three primary zones constituting the
temperature and salinity can also alter the character of the oceanic water column is appropriately termed the deeq layer
newly formed water mass (as discussed in Chap. 11). Finally, or deep zone, which is characterized by very cold, high-
it is important to note that salinity can be the dominant density water resulting from its origin in higher-latitude
factor controlling the density of seawater in some shallow- regions (Fig. 10.7). Water in the deep layer has an average
marine settings, such as over continental shelves or within temperature of less than 4°C. The deep layer includes 80
semienclosed coastal lagoons and estuaries, and in larger en- percent of the water in the ocean and consequently plays a
closed bodies of water, such as the Mediterranean Sea and major role in global heat distribution (as discussed in Chap.
the Persian Gulf. 11). That water in contact with the deep-sea floor is termed

Temperature Salinity Density after the French mathematician Gaspard

10 20°C 32 33 34 35%0 1.023 1.025 1.027 g/cm3
\ G. de Coriolis, who first auantitativelv ex-
\ Surface plained the effect of a rotating frame of
or mixed reference in 1835. For example, if a person
riding on the inside ring of a rotating car-
ousel throws a ball to another rider travel-
ing on the outside edge of the carousel,
the ball appears to travel in a curved path
Deep from the perspective of the ball thrower.
layer In fact, the ball travels in a straight line
between the two riders, as observed by a
person standing next to the carousel and
viewing the action from a fixed frame of
reference. The curved path of the ball ob-
Figure 10.7. Generalized patterns of temperature, salinity, and served by the thrower results from the ball
density through a mid-latitude water column, emphasizing the catcher moving at the same time the ball
basic three-layer density-stratified character of the ocean. The is in flight - an apparent deflection of the ball’s path im-
thermocline, halocline, and pycnocline zones mark steep gradi- parted by the rotating frame of reference of the thrower. No
ents in these parameters within the intermediate layer of the “force” (or acceleration) is involved in creating this apparent
ocean. The depth to the base of thermocline, halocline, and
pycnocline can vary between 700 and 1500 meters, but is shown deflection of motion.
here as an idealized 1000 meters. The surface or mixed layer Any object with mass moving horizontally and freely over
extends to only approximately 100 meters due to the frictional the surface of the rotating Earth is subject to the apparent
decrease in wind-induced motion with depth. g/cm3 = grams per deflection of its motion due to the Coriolis effect, although
cubic centimeter; km = kilograms; %o = parts per thousand. no force has been applied. The apparent deflection of motion
occurs when the speed and direction of the object are viewed
bottom Discrete water masses traveling along the bot- or measured in reference to the underlying surface of the
tom of the deep sea include the Antarctic Bottom Water, the rotating Earth. Hence, it is more correct to speak of the Cor-
coldest and densest water in the world ocean, with an aver- iolis effect rather than the Coriolis force. However, the Cor-
age temperature of -0.4”C. iolis effect or “force” is relatively weak and typically does not
influence the motion of small masses over short distances
ZONAL WINDS AND CIRCULATION OF THE where other forces are dominant. For example, in a bathtub,
LOWER ATMOSPHERE the water does not always swirl to the right as it exits down
a drain in the Northern Hemisphere. Another example is the
Convection of the atmosphere is driven by the unequal dis- fact that you do not have to compensate for the Coriolis
tribution of the Sun’s heat over the surface of the Earth. effect as you walk down the street or toss a Frisbee to a friend.
Given a nonrotating Earth, air heated in the equatorial re- In contrast, as huge masses of air in the atmosphere or water
gion would expand and rise, creating a low-pressure zone, in the ocean travel great distances over the rotating solid
and would flow toward the poles. As the air approached the Earth, the Coriolis effect is very significant relative to other
polar regions, it would cool, contract, increase in density, forces acting on these masses.
and sink, creating high pressure and flow equatorward along The differential velocity of the eastward spinning Earth
the Earth’s surface, completing a simple convective loop. Un- increases with increasing latitude; therefore, the amount of
der these conditions, surface winds would blow from the deflection imparted by the Coriolis effect or “force” and ex-
polar regions of high pressure to the equatorial region of low perienced by a moving air mass (or water mass in the ocean)
pressure. Moreover, the flow of surface winds would be ori- is dependent upon its velocity and latitude. The Coriolis ef-
ented due north-south, at right angle to the lines of equal fect is zero at the equator and increases with increasing lati-
atmospheric pressure or isobars. tude toward the poles, while the magnitude of deflection
In the real world, the Earth is rotating from west to east, increases with the increasing velocity of the object in mo-
masses of air moving freely over the Earth’s surface must be tion. Hence, both the circulation of the atmosphere and the
viewed in a rotating frame of reference that in turn imparts surface ocean are profoundly influenced by the Coriolis ef-
an apparent torque to their motion. One can think of the fect. The phenomenon is clearly seen in the tendency of the
solid Earth as rotating out from beneath a moving air mass surface winds to turn to the right of their motion in the
and in the process creating an apparent clockwise deflection Northern Hemisphere and to the left of their motion in the
of its motion (to the right) in the Northern Hemisphere and Southern Hemisphere (Figs. 10.2 and 10.8). These deflec-
a counterclockwise deflection (to the left) in the Southern tions, together with convection and variation in the velocity
Hemisphere. The right-and left-handed hemispheric deflec- of air masses as they travel poleward, result in six cells or
tions are due to the Coriolis effect or “force,” named “tubes” of rotating air that encircle the Earth and define

High pressure



pressure-- Intertropical convergence zone

:eizi\ z \h \ilI:::-oo

cell *

F4gare 10.8. Schematic illustration of global atmospheric circulation and surface wind patterns
(arrows on the Earth’s surface). Three large convecting cells of air (shown in cross section on the
left-hand side of the globe) define circulation of the lower atmosphere in each hemisphere. The
surface components of each atmospheric cell form the zonal wind belts that drive surface circulation
of the ocean. The limbs of the atmospheric cells include: (1) zones of rising moist air, low pressure
(L), and high rainfall in the equatorial zone and along the polar fronts (at 50 to 60” N and S), and
(2) zones of descending dry air, high pressure (H), and low rainfall over the polar regions and in the
mid-latitudes (at approximately 30” N and S). Eastward rotation of the Earth and the Coriolis effect
cause surface winds to veer to the right of their motion in the Northern Hemisphere and to the left
of their motion in the Southern Hemisphere. The polar jet streams are not surface winds but rather
flow eastward at high tropospheric altitude along the polar fronts in wave-like patterns and influence
the position of individual high- and low-pressure systems north and south of these fronts. .

global atmospheric circulation. The number of convecting persistent band of clouds and low pressure along the equa-
cells is in part a function of how fast the Earth is spinning, torial region. Small, low-pressure cells form continually in
and (as noted earlier) only two large convection cells would this region, resulting in heavy rainfall throughout the year
be in operation on a hypothetical nonrotating Earth. and hot and humid weather with irregular breezes (Fig. 10.8).
A brief description of the major atmospheric cells will The high rainfall associated with this zone offsets the high
assist in explaining the formation and pattern of surface rates of evaporation and depresses the salinity of equatorial
winds responsible for wind-driven surface circulation of the surface waters (Fig. 10.6). In short, heat-driven vertical mo-
ocean. Solar radiation is at a maximum in the equatorial tion dominates the equatorial atmosphere, resulting in a
region, resulting in high sea surface temperatures and high zone of weak and variable surface winds termed the doldrums,
rates of evaporation of seawater. As the warm, moist air ex- a phenomenon that presented a major obstacle to ancient
pands and rises, it ultimately reaches an elevation where it sailing vessels and still hinders modem sailing vessels at-
cools to the point that water vapor condenses to form clouds tempting to cross the equator. At the same time the cooler
and rain, releasing latent heat in the process. The result is a and drier air aloft in the upper troposphere moves north and

south away from the equator and continues to cool as it westerlies and cold polar easterlies collide at appro,ximately
travels poleward, gaining density as its temperature drops. 50 to 60” N and S, forming the wave-like polar front in the
At approximately 30” N and S of the equator, the now Northern Hemisphere and the Ankmtic front in the Southern
cold and relatively dense air derived from equatorial areas Hemisphere.
sinks toward the surface of the Earth, creating a zone or belt The polar frontal zones include associated polar jet streams
of high pressure (Figs. 10.2 and 10.8). As the air descends, it of high-velocity winds in the upper troposphere that travel
is heated by conduction (i.e., by transfer of heat from the eastward around the world in ever changing sinusoidal pat-
relatively warm surface of the Earth) and by compression terns. These convergences or collisions result in the advec-
(i.e., increasing adiabatic pressure). As the temperature of the tion of the relatively warm and lower-density air of the pre-
air rises, its capacity to hold moisture increases, with the vailing westerlies up and over the cold, dense air of the polar
result that the mid-latitude high-pressure belts are character- easterlies. The rising, warm, moist air is rapidly cooled and
ized by cloudless skies and low rainfall. The high rates of water vapor condenses, forming prominent zones of clouds
evaporation associated with the 30” high-pressure zones in- and high rainfall, and continually producing low-pressure
crease the salinity of underlying surface water and create storm systems. The high rainfall associated with the polar
deserts on land. Upon reaching the Earth’s surface, some of frontal zones dilutes underlying surface water, imparting
this air flows toward the low-pressure belt of the equatorial characteristic lower salinities to surface currents formed in
region. The Coriolis effect deflects these winds to the right of these regions (Fig. 10.6). The low-pressure storm systems
their motion in the Northern Hemisphere and to the left in formed in these zones move from west to east along the polar
the Southern Hemisphere, forming the northeast and south- fronts, guided by the associated jet streams. As is the case in
east trade winds, which are separated by the the mid-latitudes, the drier air at higher elevations flows
vergence zone (ITCZ) and the doldrums. The trade winds blow equatorward and poleward away from 60” N and S latitude,
continually westward except during the unusual conditions closing the convective cells on either side of the polar front.
associated with El Nifio events, when they slow, stop, or even Thus, six global atmospheric cells are responsible for the
reverse their direction. basic pattern of surface winds no matter what the Earth’s
Commonly during the late summer, isolated low-pressure climatic state, and regardless of the geologically transient
disturbances within the tropical trade wind belts between 5” locations of the continents and oceans (Fig. 10.8). Although
and 2W latitude graw into incre&ngLy large and violent horizontal motion prevails in these convecting c&s, it is the
storms termed hurricunes, typhoons, or cyclones (except in the relatively narrow zones of vertical motion marking the limbs
equatorial South Atlantic Ocean). These storms rapidly trans- of the cells that are of special importance. Rising warm, moist
port large amounts of latent heat into higher latitudes ac- air, condensation, and high rainfall are associated with the
companied by winds in excess of 118 kilometers per hour belts or zones of low pressure at 0 to 20” and 50 to 60” N and
and heavy rains, often with tragic consequences where they S, whereas zones of descending air and high pressure mark
meet land. A hurricane derives its energy from the latent heat zones of little precipitation at 30 to 40” and 80 to 90” N and
released as water vapor, rising off the tropical ocean, con- S. As the surface winds blow from areas of high to low pres-
denses into clouds and rain around the low-pressure center sure, they set in motion the large-scale surface circulation of
of rapidly rising warm air marking the eye of a storm. Thus, the ocean and transfer a portion of their energy to the ocean.
ocean surface temperatures play a key role in the formation,
travel, and ultimate death of these storms. Evidence indicates WIND-INDUCED MOTION OF THE SEA
that sea surface temperatures between 26 and 29°C are nec- SURFACE
essary to initiate the rapid vertical convection characteristic
of a hurricane and that this process cannot be sustained Small capillary waves created by surface tension constantly
when a storm arrives over water of less than 20°C. roughen the surface of the ocean and allow the wind to grip
At the same time the trade winds are blowing westward the sea surface, transfer energy and momentum via frictional
and equatorward, some of the air descending at 30” N and S drag, form waves, and sustain wind-driven surface circulation
flows poleward and is deflected eastward by the Coriolis ef- and major surface currents of the global ocean. However,
fect, forming the prevailing westerlies* in both hemispheres wind waves per se simply represent the transfer of energy
(Fig. 10.8). The warm, dry air of the westerlies aggressively along the air-sea interface via orbital motion and involve
evaporates seawater and increases the humidity of these air very little transport of water. This section is concerned with
masses as they sweep poleward. Meanwhile, the very cold the long-term momentum imparted to the surface waters of
and dense air formed at higher altitudes over the north and the ocean by the combined effects of wind, the rotation of
south poles sinks in these regions, forming high-pressure the Earth, and gravity; these effects are responsible for initi-
zones marked by cold, dry air that flows westward and equa- ating and sustaining the major surface currents of the ocean
torward, constituting the polar easterlies. The warm prevailing and their transport of truly enormous volumes of water on a
global scale. Once set in motion by the wind, momentum
l Winds are labeled according to the direction porn which they blow; carries the surface ocean forward in the direction of the dom-
hence, westerlies arrive from the west and travel eastward. inant wind pattern even after local winds have slackened or


South Pacific


60” Lx?” 180” ~20” 60”
Figure 10.9. Generalized surface circulation of the ocean and major surface currents and gyres.
Compare surface currents shown on this map with general patterns of surface winds shown on
Figure 10.8.

died. However, frictional effects cause a rapid decrease in winds would produce a series of six east- and west-flowing
current velocity with depth, and they restrict wind-induced surface currents, each of which would continually circle the
motion on average to the uppermost 100 meters of the water world beneath the six zonal wind belts. In reality, the only
column - the so-called surface layer. As with moving air region of the ocean displaying this laboratory-like configura-
masses, surface water masses in the ocean are subject to the tion lies below 40” S and constitutes the Southern Ocean
Coriolis effect and drift to the right of their motion in the surrounding Antarctica, where no continents are present to
Northern Hemisphere and to the left of their motion in the block or divert wind or surface water motion. The result is
Southern Hemisphere. the dreaded “Roaring Forties, ” where winds have an infinite
fetch and the West Wind Drift (also known as the Circum-
GYRES AND BOUNDARY CURRENTS Antarctic Current) continuously transports water around the
globe driven by the unimpeded Southern Hemisphere west-
A quick comparison of maps depicting generalized patterns erlies. Elsewhere, continents act like walls blocking wind-
of surface winds and major surface currents clearly illustrates driven east-west motion and force the surface ocean to move
that zonal winds (e.g., latitudinal wind belts) are a primary north and south along continental margins.
factor controlling surface circulation of the ocean (Fig. 10.8 The combined result of zonal winds and flow constraints
and 10.9). Other factors also affect surface circulation, in- imposed by continents is the formation of large surface 8yres
cluding differences in the temperature, salinity, and density in each ocean basin, representing essentially closed current
of individual water masses, variations in the elevation of the loops or rings. Wind motion and the Coriolis effect produce
sea surface from place to place, and the Coriolis effect. Sur- clockwise subtropical gyres in the Northern Hemisphere and
face circulation is also affected by the size and shape of indi- counterclockwise subtropical gyres in the Southern Hemi-
vidual ocean basins and the positions and configuration of sphere (Fig. 10.9). Each gyre includes four major surface cur-
gateways between oceans, such as Drake’s Passage between rents: two east-west currents driven by the zonal wind belts
South America and Antarctica, which allows free communi- (e.g., the trades, westerlies, and polar easterlies) forming the
cation between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. northern and southern limbs of a given gyre, and two north-
On an ocean-covered Earth without continents, surface south boundary currents that flow parallel or subparallel to

the adjacent continental margins. Surface currents in the In- south limbs of the principal surface gyres and display subtle
dian Ocean are more complex due to changes in seasonal to exaggerated western intensification due to the Earth’s east-
wind patterns associated with the monsoonal climate in its ward rotation, the conservation of angular momentum, the
northern reaches, and due to the fact that this ocean is lo- effect of west-blowing trade winds, and the consequent
cated largely in the Southern Hemisphere and bounded by pileup of water against continental “walls” forming the west-
the West Wind Drift. Nevertheless, north and south equato- em margins of the ocean basins. These currents are respon-
rial currents and a subtropical gyre also characterize the In- sible for transporting enormous volumes of warm tropical
dian Ocean. The major exception to this general pattern of water poleward and bringing cool water equatorward from
closed surface gyres is the West Wind Drift, or Circum- higher latitudes, as emphasized by the position of the 20°C
Antarctic Current, which represents unconstrained surface isotherm on opposite sides of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans
flow around Antarctica. (Fig. 10.5). One need only compare the hot and muggy sum-
Polar regions represent special cases because of their unu- mers experienced by the inhabitants of Tokyo (35’41’ N) with
sual geography and freezing temperatures. A slow but sus- the cool and foggy summers of San Francisco (37”47’ N) to
tained west-flowing gyre prevails in the Arctic Ocean under grasp the impact of boundary current asymmetry on the cli-
the infiuence of the polar easterlies, as demonstrated by stud- mate of adjacent continental margins. Because of the west-
ies of drifting ice. Polar easterlies in the Southern Hemisphere ward intensification of flow within individual current gyres,
also drive a west-flowing current around the margin of Ant- western boundary currents are characterized by high veloci-
arctica, the East Wind Drift in contrast to the dominant and ties (2 to 5 kilometers per hour) and relatively narrow and
much larger eastward-flowing West Wind Drift (Figs. 10.2 deep profiles, as typified by the Gulf Stream in the western
and 10.9). North Atlantic Ocean and the Kuroshio Current in the west-
The trade winds, prevailing westerlies, and polar easterlies em North Pacific Ocean. In contrast, eastern boundary cur-
in both hemispheres are all responsible for sustaining major rents such as the California Current in the Pacific and the
east- and west-flowing surface curr nts. The north and south Canary Current in the Atlantic, are commonly slow moving
equutoriuZ~cumnts in the Pacific, A ffantic, and Indian oceans (0.1 to 2 kilometers per hour) and have wide, shallow pro-
are clearly the product of the trade winds in these regions. files. Despite the differences in speeds and cross-sectional
These latter wind systems drive’ equatorial water westward geometries of western and eastern boundary currents, they
until it reaches a continental margin, where it is deflected transport approximately the same amount of water, thus
north or south and eventually encounters the prevailing maintaining continuity of flow within a given gyre.
westerlies. Sigrrincantly, some of this water returns eastward The temptation is to view the eastern and western bound-
in the form of equatorial cquntercur~ents that flow in the nar- ary currents as gigantic rivers; however, these flows are not
row zone between the prevailing trade wind belts and be- confined to rigid and fixed channels. Although they are
neath the doldrums, driven by west-to-east pressure gradients bounded on one side by a solid continental margin, their
rather than by wind (Fig. 10.9). In addition, some equatorial seaward and subsurface boundaries are simply other water
water moves eastward within submerged undercurrents such masses. Hence, the tracks of these currents change in shape
as the Pacinc Equatorial Undercurrent located just beneath and position with variations in speed and volume of flow.
the North Equatorial Current. Although there is some “leak- For example, the Gulf Stream experiences exaggerated me-
age” of surface waters across the equatorial regions of the andering as it jets past Cape Hatteras, in turn creating is+
major ocean basins, most significantly in the Atlantic Ocean, lated rings or patches of warm Gulf Stream water that seph-
the Coriolis-controlled clockwise and counterclockwise cir- rate from the main current and take on a life of their own for
culation of northern and southern hemispheric gyres gener- up to several months or a year before mixing with surround-
ally separates Northern and Southern Hemisphere surface cir- ing water. Similarly, studies of the Kuroshio and California
culation regimes. This is not the case in the deeper ocean (as currents demonstrate that they also meander and form large
discussed in Chap. 11). eddies in response to seasonal and long-term changes in
East-west surface currents are characterized by relatively winds and climate. Satellite monitoring has revealed that
slow and steady velocities of between 3 to 6 kilometers per these m e s o s c a l e features of surface currents are far more dy-
day. However, the dimensions of the ocean’s surface currents namic than previously understood and have practical impor-
dictate that they transport enormous volumes of water re- tance for both local weather forecasting and fisheries predic-
gardless of whether they are moving fast or slow. Indeed, the tions.
volumes moved by these currents are so large that a special Although surface wind stress is the primary driving force
flow unit named the swdrup (after the famous oceanogra- maintaining surface circulation, other factors enter into this
pher Harold U. Sverdrup) is applied to their measurement. A process. No one would argue with the concept that water
sverdrup (Sv) represents a flow of 1 million cubic meters of runs downhill, and that the interaction of wind, gravity, var-
seawater per second. Although relatively slow, east-west cur- iations in density of seawater, and the Coriolis effect com-
rents such as the North Pacific Current and the North Atlan- bine to enhance horizontal surface circulation through the
tic Current flow at rates of 10 to 16 Sv. creation of “hills” and “valleys” on the ocean’s surface. In
Eastern and western boundary currents represent the north- addition, surface winds in some areas force the density-

stratified ocean to do something it fiercely resists - move ter moves at an angle of 45” to the right of the wind’s motion
vertically. There is more to wind-driven surface circulation in the Northern Hemisphere and 45” to the left of the wind
than wind alone. in the Southern Hemisphere. As momentum is lost through
friction with depth and as each layer is deflected farther to
EKMAN SPIRAL AND EKMAN TRANSPORT the right or left, an end point is reached at which an ex-
tremely weak current is moving in the opposite direction to
We have already noted that as the wind blows across the sea that of the surface motion. This latter depth averages approx-
surface, there is a decrease in velocity of the water with depth imately 100 meters and marks the base of the surface or
due to frictional effects. As the wind drags the thin veneer of mixed layer. Summing the individual vectors of each layer
water at the air-sea interface, momentum is lost in transfer- yields a net direction of motion for the column of 90” to the
ring energy and motion to the next layer below and so on right or left of the prevailing wind. Thus, under ideal condi-
down through the water column until a point of essentially tions, the net horizontal motion of the entire wind-driven surface
zero motion is reached, on average a depth of approximately layer (approximately 0 to 100 meters) is perpendicular to the
100 meters at mid-latitude locations. At the same time that a direction of the wind (Fig. 10.10). This motion is commonly
given layer is moving horizontally, it is also under the influ- referred to as Ekman transport or Ekman drift. Although actual
ence of the Coriolis effect and therefore is deflected slightly measurements of wind and surface current vectors deviate
to the right of its motion (in the Northern Hemisphere), from these ideal or theoretically constant angles, the Ekman
leading to a systematic change in the direction of flow with spiral relationship offers a powerful predictive tool for deal-
depth. The combined result of these two processes is the ing with the dynamics of the surface ocean and has special
Ekman named after the Swedish scientist V. W. Ekman, significance for understanding gyre circulation and upwell-
who first quantitatively described this important interaction ing. The largest deviations from the ideal Ekman spiral rela-
in 1905 and initiated modern concepts of wind-driven ocean tionship occur in shallow areas of the ocean, such as over
circulation (Fig. 10.10). continental shelves where frictional dissipation along the sea
Ekman demonstrated that under the influence of a stead- bed occurs. On the other hand, angular relationships pre-
ily blowing wind and given a homogeneous column of water dicted by the Ekman spiral effect commonly prevail in open
(e.g., an ocean of uniform density and viscosity), surface wa- ocean areas, allowing oceanographers confidently to forecast
and hindcast motion of the surface layer based on wind di-
rection and speed.
Figure 10.10. Idealized view of the wind-driven Ekman spiral
and Ekman transport within the surface layer of the ocean (in
the Northern Hemisphere). T h e lengths of the solid arrows de-
pict the frictional decrease in velocity with depth; the directions
of the arrows illustrate the results of the Coriolis effect on the TOPOGRAPHY
motion of each succeeding layer down through the column. The
Coriolis effect accounts for a 45” angle (to the right of motion in As the trade winds and westerlies blow across the North Pa-
the Northern Hemisphere) between the direction of the wind cific Ocean, they not only set in motion the North Equatorial
and the direction of the wind-driven surface current, whereas Current and the North Pacific Current, but also result in the
the net drift of the entire surface layer is at 90” to the right of net drift of the surface layer at 90” to the right of their mo-
the wind. m = meters. (Source: Adapted from P. R. Pinet, Ocean-
ography, West Publishing Company, 1992.) tion, representing a clear example of Ekman transport. This
process slowly moves warmer, less
Map view dense surface water toward the center
Windw of the North Pacific subtropical sur-
Wind face gyre, creating an area of conver-
direction gence. Keeping in mind that specific
volume (measured in cubic centime-
ters per gram) is the inverse of density
0 (measured in grams per cubic centi-
meter), the less dense water takes up
more space or volume than relatively
r Ll transport higher-density water (Fig. 10.11).
Surface (Northern

layer Hence, as Ekman transport forces
warm, less dense water into the center
of the gyre, it stands at a slightly
higher elevation than the surround-
100 m --+------ ing sea surface, forming a large, low
/ hill or mound. One can easily envi-
/ / No wind-driven motion I /
sion the relationship between den-

Steep dynamic

Figure 10.11. Aspects of dynamic topography of

(Northern hemisphere) the (A) sea surface, geostrophic flow, and geo-
strophicsurface circulation (in the Northern Hemi-
sphere). (A) The idealized motion of a particle of
(A) water on a large dynamic “hill” in the-center of an
oceanic gyre as it attains a position of perfect bal-
“Hill” composed of “lightest” or lowest ance between (1) wind-driven uphill motion im-
density water which takesup more parted by Ekman transport (Coriolis effect) to the
right of west-blowing trade winds, and (2) downhill
motion induced by gravity (pressure) and the slope
of the “hill.” When a position of balance is
achieved, the particle (and others of similar density)
Reference travels to the right and around the dynamic “hill”
level (surface representing a geostrophic flow or current. Dy-
namic topography of the sea surface is created when
wind-driven Ekman transport pushes warmer and
1.0260 1.0250 1.02 0 1.0250 1.0255 1.0260
Average density of column(g/cm3) determined less dense water toward the centers of an oceanic
gyre. (B) As shown in this hypothetical cross sec-
from data on temperature& salinity
tion, the higher specifk volume of the less dense
water causes these water masses to stand at a
m slightly higher elevation above a given reference
level than surrounding waters of lower density. g/
cm3 = g-rams per cubic centimeter. (C) An example
of the dynamic topography of the North Pacific
Ocean in terms of height differences measured in
dynamic centimeters above a reference level of 500
decibars (db) (the decibar represents the standard
measure of pressure in the ocean and is defined as
100,000 dynes per-square centimeter). The eastward
rotation of the Earth has caused the dynamic “hill”
of warm surface water to shift westward, in turn
dictating that the steepest dynamic slopes and
highest velocities of geostrophic flow occur along
the western Pacific margin.

Dynamic sea surface height

in dynamic cm relative to 500 db reference level

sity, specific volume, and sea surface elevation by selecting acted upon by gravity pulling them down the “hiI1” at the
an arbitrary reference depth (i.e., a level or depth of equal same time that the wind-induced Coriolis “force” is pushing
pressure) and comparing water columns of different charac- them uphill toward the center of the gyre as a result of Ek-
ter above the given reference level (Fig. 10.11). A column of man transport (Fig. 10.11). As gravity, density, and the hori-
warm, lower-density water will obviously take up more space zontal pressure gradient cause a particle to move downhill,
(volume) and hence stand higher above the reference level the Coriolis effect again acts to deflect motion to the right
than will an adjacent column of cooler, denser water. (in the Northern Hemisphere). The particle thus moves down
Satellite-based measurements have coniirmed that the and around the hill until reaching an elevation where the
mounds of water marking the centroids of gyre circulation in effects of gravity (and density) and the uphill Coriolis “force”
fact stand as much as 2 meters higher than the level of the are in precise balance. When balance is achieved at a given
ocean forming the margins of a given gyre. Although the elevation or position on the slope, the particle then travels
slopes of these giant “hills” are very gentle, they result in continually around the hill with other particles of similar
pressure gradients with water moving downhill toward areas density, forming an integral part of an ensuing surface cur-
of lower pressure. In effect, the high-standing mound of wa- rent.
ter responds to the horizontal pressure gradient and attempts Currents and gyre motion generated in this manner are
to “flatten out” the sea surface. Individual water particles are termed geostrophic currents and geostrophic circulation, respec-

tively. The word “geostrophic” literally means “Earth mate to 25 percent, these remarkable numbers emphasize the
turned” and refers to the fact that the motion of the water is importance of upwelling to the biologic health of the ocean.
largely controlled by the Earth’s rotation and the Coriolis Coastal upwelling can be triggered when local winds blow
effect, in balance with the effects of density and gravity. The in an offshore direction for a long enough period to push
variations in the topography or elevation of the sea surface surface water away from the coast, allowing deeper water to
brought about by these interactions, and which in turn gov- move upward to replace it. In some areas, advective collision
ern geostrophic currents, are logically termed dynamic topog- of two surface water masses causes upwelling, such as occurs
raphy. Using data on variations in temperature, salinity, and where the Oyashio Current meets the Kuroshio Current off
density, and an arbitrary reference level (commonly a depth northern Japan (Fig. 10.9). Vertical motion and upwelling
representing an equal pressure of 500, 1000, or 1500 deci- can also occur where a surface current flows over a shallow
bars), oceanographers routinely construct contour maps of submerged bank or seamount or where a surface current
the dynamic topography of the sea surface (Fig. 10.11). The flows past a large coastal prominence. The most significant
resulting patterns of dynamic topography can then be used upwelling processes in both coastal zones and the open
with great confidence to predict current flow from the ori- ocean involve wind-driven Ekman transport (Fig. 10.10).
entation and shape of contour lines and the appropriate Cor- Where winds blow parallel with a coastline, Ekman trans-
iolis effect (left or right), and the estimated velocity of a given port can induce either upwelling or downwelling (Fig. 10.12).
current can be derived by knowing the slope of the sea sur- As water in the surface layer is moved horizontally (at 90” to
face - the steeper the slope, the faster the current. Areas of the direction of the wind) it is replaced by water from below,
closely spaced dynamic contours depict steep slopes and commonly from depths of 100 to 300 meters, within the
hence high-velocity currents, whereas areas of widely spaced upper part of the thermocline or intermediate layer. If Ekman
contours correspond to low slopes and hence slow-current transport is in the offshore direction, upwelling results. Alter-
motion. natively, if transport of the surface layer is toward the coast,
Because of the Earth’s rotation from west to east, the cen- downwelling occurs due to the wall-like effect of the conti-
ters of major surface gyres and the associated elevated nental margin. Ekman coastal upwelling and associated
mounds of less dense water are shifted toward the western zones of high biologic productivity are common along the
sides of individual ocean basins. Because of this shift of mass western coasts of continents (i.e., the eastern sides of ocean
and momentum within the gyres, the steepest dynamic to- basins) where sustained seasonal winds blow north and
pographies are found along the western margins of the sur- south. Clear examples of these settings include the Pacific
face gyres leading to the so-called western intensification of coasts of North and South America and the Atlantic coast of
currents and typified by the Gulf Stream and Kuroshio cur- South Africa and adjacent Namibia. All three regions experi-
rents (Figs. 10.9 and 10.11). In contrast, the eastern margins ence seasonal winds that cause vigorous upwelling of cold,
of the gyres exhibit low dynamic slopes and relatively slug- nutrient-rich water during the spring and early summer sea-
gish current flow. sons, in the turn producing fog and cool weather during
Surface winds not only maintain the ocean’s dynamic to- these periods. Mark Twain’s much paraphrased statement
pography and the resulting geostrophic circulation but also that “the coldest winter he ever experienced was a summer
govern the location and magnitude of one the most impor- in San Francisco” neatly sums up this interplay between up-
tant physical processes of the surface ocean - upwelling. welled cold water and the overlying atmosphere.
Upwelling also takes place away from coastal regions in
UPWELLING AND DOWNWELLING the open ocean where the directions of wind and current
motion together with the Coriolis effect cause Ekman drift in
Upwelling represents the vertical movement of subsurface wa- opposing directions, allowing water to well up from below.
ter to the surface of the ocean, commonly from depths This type of wind-induced vertical motion is termed divergent
within the upper thermocline or pycnocline layers. This pro- upwelhng, a process that characterizes the equatorial region
cess is critical to the recycling of key nutrients in the ocean between the northern and southern trade wind belts (Fig.
(e.g., phosphorous, nitrogen, and silicon) and their transport 10.12). Ekman transport forces surface waters to the north
to the surface of the sea, where they can be utilized by phy- (to the right of the west-blowing trade winds) in the
toplankton through photosynthesis. Upwelling areas are Northern Hemisphere and to the south (to the left of west-
characterized by exceptionally high rates of primary biologic blowing trade winds) in the Southern Hemisphere. The result
productivity along with secondary productivity by the graz- is a north-south divergence of surface layer motion away
ers through top carnivores - in fact, the entire food chain - from the equator and the upwelling of subsurface water in
drawn to these areas. Predictably, upwelling areas support the intervening area.
rich and important fishing industries. A 1969 study estimated Divergent upwelling also takes place in the Circum-
that upwelling zones account for 50 percent of all marine Antarctic region in the area between the east-flowing West
fish production in the world despite the fact that they con- Wind Drift and the west-flowing East Wind Drift (Polar Cur-
stitute less than 1 percent of the surface area of the global rent). In this case, northward Ekman transport associated
ocean. Although more recent studies have lowered this esti- with the east-flowing West Wind Drift is in opposition to the

southward Ekman drift associated with the west-flowing East

Surface Wind Drift, resulting in the so-called Antarctic Divergence, a
Layer prominent zone of high primary productivity. Upwelling in
this region is also assisted by the offshore flow of winds from
the Antarctic continent. In addition, upwelling of interme-
diate water takes place in this area to compensate for the
Coastal upwelling sinking of the extremely cold and dense surface water pro-
duced by the freezing of seawater around the Antarctic mar-
gin, a density-driven process.

1. Humans have been using the ocean for exploration, trade,

and harvesting of marine resources for thousands of years (not to
speak of the ocean’s past and future role in global politics and
war). What advantages to human well-being can you ascribe to
Coastal downwelling an increased knowledge of ocean circulation?

m 2. List as many fundamental differences as you can think of

between eastern and western boundary currents, and their ef-
Trade winds fects on the adjacent continental margins, including their cli-
mates and cultures.
quator 3. Describe the surficial conditions of the Earth, assuming
the ocean (and the rest of the hydrosphere) had been removed
some 100 million years ago.
4. What changes in global ocean surface circulation would
Divergent upwelling you predict might take place if the Isthmus of Panama were
removed, allowing Pacific and Atlantic-Caribbean water and cir-
culation to be connected along the equator? This is not a moot
Figure 10.12. Schematic illustrations of (A) coastal upwelling, question; the Isthmus of Panama was in fact not present prior to
(B) coastal downwelling, and (C) open ocean divergent upwell-
3 million years ago.
ing (in the Northern Hemisphere). All three types of vertical
motion occur as a function of wind-driven Ekman transport (see 5. What do you think the surface circulation of the ocean
Fig. 10.10). As winds blow equatorward (south) along the west- would look like if the Earth were rotating westward rather than
ern side of a continent in the Northern Hemisphere, Ekman eastward?
transport forces surface water seaward away from the coast (at
90” to the right of the wind direction). This latter water is in turn
replaced by nutrient-rich intermediate water upwelled from be-
low the surface layer, triggering high primary and secondary Bearman, G. (ed.) 1989. Ocean circulation. Oxford: The Open
productivity. Conversely, the direction of Ekman transport is University and Pergamon Press.
reversed if winds blow poleward in the same area, with the result
Garrison, T. 1999. Oceanography, an invitation to marine wia
that surface water undergoes downwelling (sinking) as it is forced
against the coast. Equatorial divergent upwelling results where ence, 3rd edition. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Corn*
west-blowing northern trade winds induce northward Ekman PanY.
transport at the same time that parallel southern trade winds (in McLeisch, W. H. 1989. The blue god. Smithsonian 19(2): 4rl-
the Southern Hemisphere) are inducing southerly Ekman trans- 58.
port. Thus, subsurface water is upwelled in the zone between the
two opposing surface flows. Pickard, G. L., and Emery, W. J. 1990. Descriptive physicvl .
oceanography, 5th (SI) enlarged edition. Oxford. Perganttrrt
Wunsch, C. 1992. Observing ocean circulation from spice
Oceanus 35(2) 9-17. .Js