Surface Currents

Ocean water moves in predictable ways along the s surface. Surface currents can circulation for hundreds of kilometers and also can reach depth of thousands of meters. These surface currents execute not rely on weather; they continue to be unchanged also in huge storms since they rely on factors that do not change.

You are watching: The curved paths of global winds and surface currents are caused by

Surface currents are produced by three things:

global wind patternsthe rotation of the Earththe shape of the s basins

Surface currents are exceptionally important because they distribution heat approximately the planet and are a significant factor influencing climate around the globe.

Global Wind Patterns

Winds on planet are either an international or local. Worldwide winds blow in the same directions all the time and also are concerned the unequal heating of planet by the sunlight — the is, more solar radiation strikes the equator 보다 the polar areas –- and the rotation that the earth — the is, the Coriolis effect. The reasons of the an international wind patterns will be defined in detail in the Earth’s setting chapter.

Water in the surface currents is thrust in the direction the the significant wind belts:

trade winds: eastern to west between the equator and 30oN and also 30oSwesterlies: west to eastern in the middle latitudespolar easterlies: east to west in between 50o and 60o north and south of the equator and also the north and also south pole

Earth’s Rotation

Wind is no the only element that affects ocean currents. The Coriolis effect describes how earth rotation steers winds and also surface s currents (Figure below). Coriolis reasons freely relocating objects to show up to relocate to the right in the north Hemisphere and also to the left in the southern Hemisphere. The objects themselves are actually relocating straight, yet the earth is rotating beneath them, so they it seems ~ to bend or curve.

An example could make the Coriolis effect simpler to visualize. If an aircraft flies 500 miles due north, it will not come at the city the was due phibìc of it once it started its journey. Over the moment it takes for the airplane to paris 500 miles, the city moved, in addition to the planet it sits on. The aircraft will as such arrive at a city to the west that the initial city (in the north Hemisphere), unless the pilot has actually compensated because that the change. Therefore to with his intended destination, the pilot must additionally veer appropriate while paris north.

As wind or one ocean present moves, the earth spins underneath it. As a result, an object moving phibìc or southern along the planet will show up to move in a curve, rather of in a straight line. Wind or water the travels toward the poles native the equator is deflected come the east, when wind or water that travels towards the equator native the poles it s okay bent come the west. The Coriolis effect bends the direction of surface ar currents come the ideal in the north Hemisphere and left in the southerly Hemisphere.


The Coriolis effect reasons winds and currents to form circular patterns. The direction the they spin depends on the hemisphere the they are in.

Coriolis effect is demonstrated using a metal ball and a rotating bowl in this video. The round moves in a one path similar to a freely moving fragment of gas or fluid moves on the rotating Earth (5b): (2:04).

Shape of the ocean Basins

When a surface current collides with land, the current must change direction. In the Figure below, the Atlantic south Equatorial present travels westward along the equator until it reaches south America. In ~ Brazil, several of it goes north and also some walk south. Since of Coriolis effect, the water goes right in the northern Hemisphere and also left in the southern Hemisphere.


The significant surface ocean currents.

You deserve to see ~ above the map of the significant surface ocean currents that the surface s currents produce loops called gyres (Figure below). The Antarctic Circumpolar current is unique due to the fact that it travel uninhibited around the globe. Why is that the only present to go all the method around?


The ocean gyres. Why perform the northern Hemisphere gyres turn clockwise and the southern Hemisphere gyres turn counterclockwise?

This video shows the surface ocean currents set by worldwide wind belts (5a): (1:20).

Effect on global Climate

Surface currents beat an enormous role in earth climate. Even though the equator and also poles have an extremely different climates, these regions would have more extremely different climates if s currents did no transfer heat from the equatorial regions to the greater latitudes.

The Gulf currently is a flow of heat water in the Atlantic Ocean, about 160 kilometers vast and around a kilometre deep. Water the enters the Gulf stream is heated together it travels follow me the equator. The warmth water then flows increase the east coast of north America and throughout the Atlantic s to Europe (Figure below). The power the Gulf Stream transfers is enormous: an ext than 100 times the world’s energy demand.

The Gulf Stream’s heat waters raise temperature in the north Sea, i m sorry raises the waiting temperatures over land in between 3 come 6oC (5 come 11oF). London, U.K., because that example, is at the very same latitude as Quebec, Canada. However, London’s mean January temperature is 3.8oC (38oF), if Quebec’s is only -12oC (10oF). Because air traveling end the heat water in the Gulf Stream picks up a many water, London gets a most rain. In contrast, Quebec is lot drier and also receives that is precipitation together snow.

In a satellite picture of water temperature in the western Atlantic that is basic to pick out the Gulf Stream, which brings warmer waters from the equator up east North America.

Deep CurrentsThermohaline circulation drives deep ocean circulation. Thermo method heat and haline refers to salinity. Distinctions in temperature and also in salinity adjust the thickness of seawater. Therefore thermohaline circulation is the result of density differences in water masses because of their various temperature and salinity.

What is the temperature and also salinity of very dense water? lower temperature and greater salinity productivity the densest water. When a volume that water is cooled, the molecules move less vigorously so same number of molecules takes increase less room and the water is denser. If salt is included to a volume of water, there are an ext molecules in the exact same volume therefore the water is denser.

Changes in temperature and salinity that seawater take place at the surface. Water becomes thick near the poles. Cold polar wait cools the water and lowers its temperature, raising its salinity. Fresh water freezes out of seawater to come to be sea ice, which also increases the salinity of the remaining water. This very cold, really saline water is very dense and sinks. This sinking is called downwelling.

This video lecture discusses the vertical distribution of life in the oceans. Seawater thickness creates currents, which carry out different habitats for different creatures (5d): (6:12).

Two points then happen. The dense water pushes deeper water the end of its way and that water moves follow me the bottom of the ocean. This deep water mixes with less dense water as it flows. Surface ar currents relocate water into the room vacated in ~ the surface ar where the dense water sank (Figure below). Water also sinks into the deep s off the Antarctica.

Cold water (blue lines) sinks in the phibìc Atlantic, flows follow me the bottom of the ocean and upwells in the Pacific or Indian. The water then travels in surface currents (red lines) ago to the north Atlantic. Deep water additionally forms off of Antarctica.

Since unlimited amounts of water can not sink come the bottom of the ocean, water must rise native the deep s to the surface somewhere. This process is called upwelling (Figure below).

Upwelling pressures denser water from below to take the location of less dense water at the surface that is pushed away by the wind.

Generally, upwelling occurs along the shore when wind blows water strongly away from the shore. This leaves a void the is fill by deep water the rises come the surface.

Upwelling is extremely important where it occurs. During its time top top the bottom, the cold deep water has collected nutrients that have fallen down v the water column. Upwelling bring those nutrients to the surface. Those nutrient support the expansion of plankton and type the basic of a affluent ecosystem. California, southern America, southern Africa, and the Arabian Sea all advantage from offshore upwelling.

An animation of upwelling is watched here:

Upwelling additionally takes place along the equator between the North and South Equatorial Currents. Winds blow the surface water north and also south that the equator for this reason deep water undergoes upwelling. The nutrients climb to the surface and support a great deal that life in the equatorial oceans.

See more: Feet Per Second Squared To Meters Per Second Squared, To Meters Per (Second Squared) Conversion

Lesson Summary

Ocean surface ar currents are produced by worldwide winds, the Coriolis effect and the shape of each ocean basin.The Pacific and Atlantic Oceans have a circular sample of surface currents called gyres that circle clockwise in the northern Hemisphere and counterclockwise in the Southern. The Indian ocean only has a counterclockwise gyre.Surface ocean circulation brings heat equatorial waters towards the poles and also cooler polar water towards the equator.Thermohaline circulation cd driver deep s currents.Upwelling the cold, nutrient-rich waters create biologically rich locations where surface waters space blown away from a shore, or where equatorial waters are blow outward.

Review Questions

What reasons the fads of surface currents in the ocean?How do ocean surface currents affect climate?What is the Coriolis effect?What procedure can do deep, dense water rise to the surface?Why are upwelling locations important to marine life?

Further analysis / Supplemental Links

Points come Consider

Some scientists have actually hypothesized the if enough ice in Greenland melts, the Gulf Stream might be closeup of the door down. Why might this happen?If the Gulf Stream turn off down, what would be the an outcome on climate in Europe?How carry out the motions of s water contribute to the ocean’s life?