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I. Global Winds and Ocean Currents. A. Origin of Ocean Currents. Drag exerted by winds flowing across the ocean causes the surface layer of water to move. Winds are the primary cause of surface ocean currents. Planetary Winds. Interaction of: Mid-Latitude southwesterly winds

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I. Global Winds and Ocean Currents

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I global winds and ocean currents

I. Global Winds and Ocean Currents

A origin of ocean currents

A. Origin of Ocean Currents

  • Drag exerted by winds flowing across the ocean causes the surface layer of water to move.

  • Winds are the primary cause of surface ocean currents

Planetary winds

Planetary Winds

  • Interaction of:

    • Mid-Latitude southwesterly winds

    • Tropical northeasterly trade winds

  • Produces Gyres

B relationship between oceanic circulation and general atmospheric circulation

B. Relationship Between Oceanic Circulation and General Atmospheric Circulation

1 north and south equatorial currents

1. North and South Equatorial Currents

a) North and south of the equator and are westward moving currents.

b) Derive energy from the trades winds

c) Affected by the Coriolis Effect (clockwise spiral in Northern Hemisphere and counterclockwise in the Southern Hemisphere)

d)Found in each of the major ocean basins and centered around the subtropical high pressure systems.

2 currents flowing from higher latitudes are cold and those flowing from lower latitudes are warm

2.Currents flowing from higher latitudes are cold and those flowing from lower latitudes are warm.

  • Warm: Gulf Stream (North Atlantic Drift), Kuroshio Current

  • Cold:Labrador Current, California Current

3 spinning gyres in subtropics

3. Spinning Gyres in Subtropics

  • Upper layer of water piles up in the gyre’s center.

  • Sea level is 2 m higher than the surrounding ocean.

  • Water flows outwards and is turned by Coriolis

  • Continents form boundaries that contain flow in the ocean basins.

4 the conveyer belt

4. The “Conveyer Belt”

  • Net northward transport of heat in N. Hemisphere

  • Most circulates around the subtropical gyre

  • Transfers heat to the atmosphere

    • Above 50o N, large temperature contrast between ocean and atmosphere

  • Warm northward flowing salty water

  • cools and sinks north of Iceland between

  • N. America and Greenland

  • This cold water flows south at 2 to 4 km

  • depths.

5 deep ocean circulation

5. Deep-Ocean Circulation

  • Thermocline:

    (i)A zone of rapid temperature change between:

    • Warm upper layers

    • Cold water of deeper ocean basins

      (ii)Two Thermoclines

    • Deeper permanent portion

    • Shallower portion

      (iii) Changes as a result of seasonal heating by the Sun



Warm poleward flow is balanced by

sinking cold water at high latitudes that

moves towards the equator (conveyer).

Thermohaline flow:

Term for this over-turning circulation

B thermohaline flow

b. Thermohaline Flow

(i)Term is derived from the two processes that control deep water formation and influence the water’s density.

  • “Thermo” for temperature

  • “Haline” for salinity

    • From halite, the mineral name for salt

Salinity increases water s density

Salinity – Increases Water’s Density

  • Dissolved salts

  • Average 35 parts per thousand (o/oo) by mass.

  • 3.5% denser than freshwater

  • Evaporation increases salinity

  • Salt Rejection at high latitudes

    • Sea Ice is freshwater

    • Salt left behind and dissolves in sea water.

Ii deep waters sink due to increased density

(ii)Deep Waters Sink Due to Increased Density

  • Cooling

    • Increases the density due to a decrease in volume

  • This Causes

    • Warm water to be carried poleward into cooler regions

    • Cold air masses to move to lower latitudes

Sources of deep ocean water

Sources of Deep Ocean Water

  • High latitude North Atlantic ocean and the Southern Ocean, near Antarctica

  • Pacific Ocean high latitudes are not a source because surface waters are not

  • dense enough due to low salinity

North atlantic deep water the part of the conveyer that returns water to lower latitudes

North Atlantic Deep WaterThe Part of the “Conveyer” that Returns Water to Lower Latitudes

  • Occurs north of Iceland and east of Labrador

  • Fills Atlantic between depths of two and four kilometers

  • Flows southward with a total volume 15x greater than the combined flow of

  • all the streams on Earth

C effects on climate

C. Effects on Climate

1 moderating effect of warm poleward moving currents

1.Moderating Effect of Warm Poleward Moving Currents

The gulf stream

The Gulf Stream

Hopedale, Newfoundland and Labrador

Latitude = 55.45o N

Avg. Temp. = 28.4o F (-2.0o C)

Stornoway, Scotland

Latitude = 58.22o N

Avg. Temp. = 46.9o F (9.4o C)

2 cold ocean currents

2.Cold Ocean Currents

  • a) Influence temperature

  • West coast deserts become more arid because the cold air is more stable

  • and does not rise. Examples:

  • - Peru Current

  • - Benguela Current

Effects of cold ocean currents

Effects of Cold Ocean Currents

Cold ocean currents create fog

Cold Ocean Currents Create Fog

  • Fog and high relative humidity can result from air approaching it’s

  • dew point temperature.

  • - An example is the weather in Newfoundland from the Labrador Current.

The labrador current

The Labrador Current

So how does water that sinks into the deep ocean get back to the surface

So, how does water that sinks into the deep ocean get back to the surface?

Climate scientists really don’t know the answer!

A widely accepted explanation

A Widely Accepted Explanation

  • Deep water gradually mixes into the central ocean basins

  • Moves slowly upward along the thermocline into warmer waters

  • Recent measurements

    • Show that this upward diffusion doesn’t account for much of the return flow because it’s too slow

D upwelling

D. Upwelling


a)Initiated by surface winds

b)Assisted by the Coriolis Effect

c)Intermediate depth water moves upward to replace surface water that has been pushed away by winds

2 equatorial upwelling

2. Equatorial Upwelling

  • Trade winds push water away from the equator

  • Warm surface water moves

    • Northward in the N. Hemisphere

    • Southward in the S. Hemisphere

      c)Cooler water moves upwards from below to replace the surface water

3 coastal upwelling

3. Coastal Upwelling

a)Common along the coasts of California, Peru, and West Africa.

b)Winds flow toward the equator parallel to the coast

(i)The Coriolis effect directs surface water away from shore.

(ii) Surface water is replaced by water that slowly rises from below (from 50

to 100 meters).

(iii) This water is cooler than the surface water it replaces.

3 coastal upwelling1

3. Coastal Upwelling

c)This water is cooler

than the surface

water it replaces

d)Upwelling brings to the surface greater concentrations of dissolved nutrients

(i.e. nitrates and phosphates) that promote plankton growth, which supports

fish populations.

El ni o

El Niño

  • The sudden warming of a vast area of the equatorial Pacific ocean surface.

  • Typically starts off Peru and works up the coast to western Mexico and California

  • Occurs in a three to seven year cycle.

  • See-Saw Pattern from normal to El Niño conditions is called the Southern Oscillation

  • ENSOsometimes used for El Niño Southern Oscillation.

Normal conditions

Normal Conditions

  • The trade winds and strong equatorial currents flow toward the west.

  • The strong Peru Current causes upwelling along S. America’s west coast.

  • High air pressure between the eastern and western Pacific causes surface

  • winds and warm equatorial waters to flow westward.

  • Warm water piles up in the western Pacific.

Normal pacific ocean conditions

Normal Pacific Ocean Conditions

El ni o enso

El Niño (ENSO)

  • Pressure over the eastern and western Pacific flip-flops

  • This causes the trades to weaken and warm water to move eastward.

Enso pacific ocean condiations

ENSO Pacific Ocean Condiations

Weather related to enso

Weather Related to ENSO

  • Winters

    • Warmer than normal in northern U.S. and Canada

    • Cooler than normal in the Southwest and Southeast

    • Eastern U.S.

      • Wetter than normal conditions

    • Indonesia, Australia, Philippines

      • Drought conditions

    • Suppression of the number of Atlantic Hurricanes

Weather related to enso1

Weather Related to ENSO

  • Summers

    • Wetter than average in U.S.

      • Northwest,

      • North-midwest

      • North-mideast

      • mountain regions

La ni a after an enso episode

La Niña After an ENSO Episode

  • Water Temperature

    • Water temperature returns to normal

    • Colder water temperatures in the eastern Pacific

  • Trade winds may become especially strong, causing increased upwelling

  • Typical La Niña weather patterns

    • Cool conditions over the Pacific Northwest

    • Especially cold winter temperatures in the Great Plains

    • Unusually dry conditions in the Southwestern and Southeastern U.S.

    • Increased precipitation in the U.S. Northwest

    • Increased Atlantic hurricane activity

Iii global distribution of precipitation

III. Global Distribution of Precipitation

A. Precipitation on a “uniform” Earth without considering variations caused by land and water

Four major pressure zones in each hemisphere

Four Major Pressure Zones in Each Hemisphere

Annual global distribution of precipitation

Annual Global Distribution of Precipitation

  • Dry Conditions: In regions influenced by high pressure

    • Subsidence and divergent winds

  • Ample Precipitation:In regions influenced by low pressure

    • Converging winds and ascending air

Between itcz and subtropical high

Between ITCZ and Subtropical High

  • Influenced by both pressure systems which migrate seasonally

  • Most precipitation in summer due to influence of ITCZ

Mid latitudes


  • Most precipitation from traveling cyclonic storms

  • Dominated in winter by the Polar Front which generates cyclones is in this region

  • In summer, dominated by subsidence from the dry subtropical high.

Cyclonic storms produce most precipitation in middle latitudes

Cyclonic Storms Produce Most Precipitation in Middle Latitudes

Satellite Image of a well-developed mid-latitude cyclone over the British Isles.

Polar regions

Polar Regions

  • Dominated by cold air with low moisture capacity.

  • Little precipitation throughout the year.

Seasonal changes in precipitation patterns in the mid latitudes

Seasonal Changes in Precipitation Patterns in the Mid-latitudes

  • Results from seasonal shifts in insolation

  • Summer

    • Dominated by subsidence associated with the dry subtropical high

  • Winter

    • Polar front moves equatorward

    • Precipitation from numerous cyclones

B distribution of precipitation over continents

B. Distribution of Precipitation over Continents

  • Arid regions in the mid-latitudes don’t conform to the ideal zonal patterns

    • Desert regions in southern South America (Patagonia) result from the orographic effect of a mountain barrier.

  • Other differences result from the distribution of continents and oceans

The subtropics a notable anomaly

The Subtropics: A notable anomaly

  • Location of many of the world’s great deserts but also the location of regions with abundant rainfall

The cause subtropical high pressure centers

The Cause . . .Subtropical High Pressure Centers

Have Different Characteristics on Eastern and Western Sides

Eastern side of a subtropical high

Eastern Side of a Subtropical High

  • Subsidence creates stable air

    • Upwelling of cold water along the west coasts of adjacent continents cools the air from below, adding to the stability on the eastern side of the low.

    • Results in arid conditions

Western sides of continents adjacent to these lows are arid

Western sides of continents adjacent to these lows are arid

Western side of a subtropical high

Western Side of a Subtropical High

  • Convergence and uplifting on the western side

    • Air travels over a large expanse of ocean and acquires moisture.

    • Eastern regions of subtropical continents receive ample yearly precipitation.

      • A good example is Southern Florida.

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