Far beneath the surface of the ocean, deep currents act as conveyer belts, channeling heat, carbon, oxygen and nutrients around the globe. They collaborated with Casimir de Lavergne, Jaime B. Palter and Eric D. The Southern Ocean takes up approximately 60 percent of the anthropogenic heat produced on Earth and 40 to 50 percent of the anthropogenic carbon dioxide. Along with colleagues, Marinov used models to discern whether the shrinking of the Antarctic Bottom Waters could be attributed to anthropogenic climate change. They looked to an unusual phenomenon that had been observed from satellite images taken between and The images revealed a large ice-free area within the Weddell Sea.
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In a separate process, brine released during the sea-ice formation process produces a reservoir of cold, salty waters at the surface of the Weddell Sea. Because this situation is not stable, the heavy surface waters mix with the warmer, lighter waters underneath in a process called open-sea convection. Polynyas were not observed again in the Weddell Sea after , leading researchers to believe they —- and hence open-sea convection -— were rare events.
In the new study, however, the team suggests that polynyas were likely more common in the pre-industrial era, before anthropogenic climate change took hold. The reason has to do with the fact that climate change has led to more precipitation around the Antarctic continent, which leads to greater levels of fresh water at the surface.
Examining 20, data points, the researchers showed that the Southern Ocean surface has freshened during the last 60 years. They also found that vertical gradients of salinity and density have increased in the Southern Ocean, suggesting that mixing has been reduced.
Using the latest generation of climate models, 36 finely tuned and complex models that simulate climate change patterns, they found that, in most of the models, convective events, such as the polynyas captured by satellite images in the s, were much more common in pre-industrial conditions, before anthropogenic climate change took hold.
This has implications for current and future climate change, the researchers said. We are pursuing these implications in our current work. This in turn feeds the Leeuwin Current — the longest boundary current in the world Ocean currents that flow adjacent to a coastline are called boundary currents. The Leeuwin Current is the major boundary current along the west coast and as it moves southward.
There is a strong seasonal variation in the strength of the boundary currents in the Indian Ocean with a progression southwards of the peak transport along the coast. Read more: Climate change is slowing Atlantic currents that help keep Europe warm. At around latitude 15 degrees south the currents split in two: southward to form the East Australian Current, and northward to form the Hiri Current which contributes to a clockwise gyre in the Gulf of Papua.
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The East Australian Current is the dominant current in the region transporting 33 million cubic metres of water per second southward. Along the southern continental slope, the Flinders Current appears as an undercurrent beneath the Leeuwin Current and a surface current further offshore. The Flinders Current contributes to the Leeuwin Undercurrent directly as a northward flow, flowing to the north-west of Australia in water depths metres to metres.
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Understanding ocean circulation is a fundamental tenet of physical oceanography and scientists have been charting the pathways of ocean currents since the American hydrographer Matthew Maury , one of the founders of oceanography, who first charted the Gulf Stream in Although some of the major features such as the East Australian Current were correctly identified, a more fine scale description is now available. The unique feature of ocean currents around Australia is that along both east and west coasts they transport warmer water southwards and influence the local climate, particularly air temperature and rainfall, as well as species distribution.
For example, the south west of Australia is up to 5C warmer in winter and receives more than double the rainfall compared to regions located on similar latitudes along western coastlines of other continents. Similarly many tropical species of fish are found in the southwest of Australia that hitch a ride on the ocean currents. The Pacific Ocean is the origin of waters around Australia with a direct link to the east and an indirect link to west. Ocean water from the Pacific Ocean flows through the Indonesian Archipelago, a region subject to high solar heating and rainfall runoff, creating lower density water.
This water, augmented by water from the Indian Ocean, flows around the western and southern coasts, converging along the southern coast of Tasmania.
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So next time you head for a dip in the coastal waters around Australian, spare a thought for where that water has come from and where it may be going next. At the frontiers of the urban: thinking concepts and practices globally — London.
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