Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Satellites Record Weakening North Atlantic Current

Date:
April 16, 2004
Source:
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
Summary:
A North Atlantic Ocean circulation system weakened considerably in the late 1990s, compared to the 1970s and 1980s, according to a NASA study.

This image shows the dominant pattern of variability of the sea-surface height in the 1990s. The slope of the sea-surface height is in balance with ocean currents, much in the way weather maps of pressure relate to winds. The large blue region in the northern Atlantic represents a slowing of the counter-clockwise, cyclonically circulating subpolar gyre. For this image, the researchers used TOPEX/Poseidon data, which has been combined with ERS-1/2 data into the NASA Pathfinder data set. The Pathfinder data set also includes the Seasat and Geosat data which are referenced to TOPEX/Poseidon data. The next few years will reveal how sea surface height is going to evolve as the altimetric time series continues with JASON-1 observations.
Credit: Sirpa Hakkinen, NASA GSFC

A North Atlantic Ocean circulation system weakened considerably in the late 1990s, compared to the 1970s and 1980s, according to a NASA study.

Sirpa Hakkinen, lead author and researcher at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. and co-author Peter Rhines, an oceanographer at the University of Washington, Seattle, believe slowing of this ocean current is an indication of dramatic changes in the North Atlantic Ocean climate. The study's results about the system that moves water in a counterclockwise pattern from Ireland to Labrador were published on the Internet by the journal Science on the Science Express Web site at:http://www.sciencexpress.org or http://www.aaas.org

The current, known as the subpolar gyre, has weakened in the past in connection with certain phases of a large-scale atmospheric pressure system known as the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO). But the NAO has switched phases twice in the 1990s, while the subpolar gyre current has continued to weaken. Whether the trend is part of a natural cycle or the result of other factors related to global warming is unknown.

"It is a signal of large climate variability in the high latitudes," Hakkinen said. "If this trend continues, it could indicate reorganization of the ocean climate system, perhaps with changes in the whole climate system, but we need another good five to 10 years to say something like that is happening." Rhines said, "The subpolar zone of the Earth is a key site for studying the climate. It's like Grand Central Station there, as many of the major ocean water masses pass through from the Arctic and from warmer latitudes. They are modified in this basin. Computer models have shown the slowing and speeding up of the subpolar gyre can influence the entire ocean circulation system."

Satellite data makes it possible to view the gyre over the entire North Atlantic basin. Measurements from deep in the ocean, using buoys, ships and new autonomous "robot" Seagliders, are important for validating and extending the satellite data. Sea-surface height satellite data came from NASA's Seasat (July, August 1978), U.S. Navy's Geosat (1985 to 1988), and the European Space Agency's European Remote Sensing Satellite1/2 and NASA's TOPEX/Poseidon (1992 to present).

Hakkinen and Rhines were able to reference earlier data to TOPEX/Poseidon data, and translate the satellite sea-surface height data to velocities of the subpolar gyre. The subpolar gyre can take 20 years to complete its route. Warm water runs northward through the Gulf Stream, past Ireland, before it turns westward near Iceland and the tip of Greenland.

The current loses heat to the atmosphere as it moves north. Westerly winds pick up that lost heat, creating warmer, milder European winters. After frigid Labrador Sea winters, the water in the current becomes cold, salty and dense, plunges beneath the surface, and heads slowly southward back to the equator. The cycle is sensitive to the paths of winter storms and to the buoyant fresh water from glacial melting and precipitation, all of which are experiencing great change.

While previous studies have proposed winds resulting from the NAO have influenced the subpolar gyre's currents, this study found heat exchanges from the ocean to the atmosphere may be playing a bigger role in the weakening current. Using Topex/Poseidon sea-surface height data, the researchers inferred Labrador Sea water in the core of the gyre warmed during the 1990s. This warming reduces the contrast with water from warmer southern latitudes, which is part of the driving force for ocean circulation.

The joint NASA-CNES (French Space Agency) Topex/Poseidon oceanography satellite provides high-precision data on the height of the world's ocean surfaces, a key measure of ocean circulation and heat storage in the ocean.

NASA's Earth Science Enterprise is dedicated to understanding the Earth as an integrated system and applying Earth System Science to improve prediction of climate, weather and natural hazards using the unique vantage point of space. NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the National Science Foundation funded the study.

###

For more information and images from the study on the Internet, visit:

http://www.gsfc.nasa.gov/topstory/2004/0415gyre.html

http://sealevel.jpl.nasa.gov/index.html


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center. "Satellites Record Weakening North Atlantic Current." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 April 2004. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/04/040416010914.htm>.
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center. (2004, April 16). Satellites Record Weakening North Atlantic Current. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/04/040416010914.htm
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center. "Satellites Record Weakening North Atlantic Current." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/04/040416010914.htm (accessed October 22, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Traditional Farming Methods Gaining Ground in Mali

Traditional Farming Methods Gaining Ground in Mali

AFP (Oct. 20, 2014) He is leading a one man agricultural revolution in Mali - Oumar Diatabe uses traditional farming methods to get the most out of his land and is teaching others across the country how to do the same. Duration: 01:44 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
How Detroit's Money Woes Led To U.N.-Condemned Water Cutoffs

How Detroit's Money Woes Led To U.N.-Condemned Water Cutoffs

Newsy (Oct. 20, 2014) The United Nations says water is a human right, but should it be free? Detroit has cut off water to residents who can't pay, and the U.N. isn't happy. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Hey, Doc! Sewage, Beer and Food Scraps Can Power Chevrolet’s Bi-Fuel Impala

Hey, Doc! Sewage, Beer and Food Scraps Can Power Chevrolet’s Bi-Fuel Impala

3BL Media (Oct. 20, 2014) Hey, Doc! Sewage, Beer and Food Scraps Can Power Chevrolet’s Bi-fuel Impala Video provided by 3BL
Powered by NewsLook.com
White Rhino's Death In Kenya Means Just 6 Are Left

White Rhino's Death In Kenya Means Just 6 Are Left

Newsy (Oct. 20, 2014) Suni, a rare northern white rhino at Ol Pejeta Conservancy, died Friday. This, as many media have pointed out, leaves people fearing extinction. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins