We tend to think of ocean currents – when we think of them at all — as stately, slow-moving rivers in the sea, as I believe Ben Franklin himself first referred to the Gulf Stream.
But in reality the patterns of water movement across the earth’s surface are extraordinarily complex. Nothing gives you a more dramatic and intuitive sense of this than NASA’s new high-res visualization of planetary ocean circulation, “Perpetual Ocean“, which shows the (can I say this?) sensuous dance of ocean surface currents around the globe from June 2005 through December 2007.
Look at how the Gulf Stream splits up into a thousand mesmerizing wriggles as it sets out into the open Atlantic. And the equatorial current squeezing up through the Caribbean. My favorite part is the series of tight, surprisingly long-lived eddies generated as the Agulhas current hooks around the tip of South Africa out of the Indian Ocean — very dramatic! I’ve pasted the Youtube version in below for slackers, but the little window really doesn’t do it justice. if you want to see this in all its high-res glory, I strongly recommend checking out this link.
From Science Daily:
“The visualization covers the period June 2005 to December 2007 and is based on a synthesis of a numerical model with observational data, created by a NASA project called Estimating the Circulation and Climate of the Ocean, or ECCO for short . . . These model-data syntheses are among the largest computations of their kind ever undertaken. They are made possible by high-end computing resources provided by NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. ECCO model-data syntheses are being used to quantify the ocean’s role in the global carbon cycle, to understand the recent evolution of the polar oceans, to monitor time-evolving heat, water, and chemical exchanges within and between different components of the Earth system, and for many other science applications.”