Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Retooling the ocean conveyor belt

Date:
June 20, 2010
Source:
Duke University
Summary:
Oceanographer are reviewing the growing body of evidence that suggests it's time to rethink the ocean conveyor belt model.

The old conveyor belt model of ocean currents is no longer valid for the ocean's overturning, not because it's a gross simplification, but because it ignores crucial elements such as eddies and the wind field.
Credit: Copyright Michele Hogan

For decades, oceanographers have embraced the idea that Earth's ocean currents operate like a giant conveyor belt, overturning to continuously transport deep, cold polar waters toward the equator and warm equatorial surface waters back toward the poles along narrow boundary currents. The model held that the conveyor belt was driven by changes in the temperature and salinity of the surface waters at high latitudes.

Related Articles


In a paper in the June 18 issue of Science, a Duke University oceanographer reviews the growing body of evidence that suggests it's time to rethink the conveyor belt model.

"The old model is no longer valid for the ocean's overturning, not because it's a gross simplification, but because it ignores crucial elements such as eddies and the wind field. The concept of a conveyor belt for the overturning was developed decades ago, before oceanographers had measured the eddy field of the ocean and before they understood how energy from the wind impacts the overturning," says Susan Lozier, professor of physical oceanography and chair of the Division of Earth and Ocean Sciences at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment.

"It is important to understand that there is clear and convincing evidence that the ocean waters overturn and that this overturning impact's the Earth's climate," she says. "Recent studies, however, have cast doubt on our ability to describe this overturning as a conveyor belt. From these studies we now understand that the overturning waters are not restricted to narrow boundary currents, that the overturning may vary from one ocean basin to the next and that the winds may create variability in the amount of water that overturns and in the pathways for the upper and lower limbs of the overturning."

The Science article also reviews what remains unknown about the ocean's overturning. As surface waters warm and/or freshen due to climate change, how might the overturning change? Though modeling studies have addressed this question, there has been no observational study.

A new international research program in the planning stages, led by Lozier, aims to address the question of climate effects. The initiative will bring together researchers from the United States, Germany, Canada, France and the United Kingdom to study overturning in the northern North Atlantic over a five-to-10-year period.

In her Science article, Lozier reviews the emerging view of the overturning circulation within a historical framework that chronicles significant scientific developments in the field, from the first reported measurement of ocean overturning in 1751 through the present.

"Basically, our ability to refine our understanding of the ocean's overturning stems in large part from our ever increasing ability to measure the ocean at finer and finer scales and at depths previously unmeasured," she says. "Because the ocean waters are corrosive, at high pressure and generally inaccessible, the ocean has historically been a sparsely observed system. Recent technological advances are rapidly expanding the ocean's observational database and with it, our understanding of ocean circulation."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Duke University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Duke University. "Retooling the ocean conveyor belt." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 June 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100618102646.htm>.
Duke University. (2010, June 20). Retooling the ocean conveyor belt. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100618102646.htm
Duke University. "Retooling the ocean conveyor belt." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100618102646.htm (accessed November 24, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Earth & Climate News

Monday, November 24, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

3D Map of Antarctic Sea Ice to Shed Light on Climate Change

3D Map of Antarctic Sea Ice to Shed Light on Climate Change

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Nov. 24, 2014) A multinational group of scientists have released the first ever detailed, high-resolution 3-D maps of Antarctic sea ice. Using an underwater robot equipped with sonar, the researchers mapped the underside of a massive area of sea ice to gauge the impact of climate change. Ben Gruber reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Car Park Solution for Flexible Green Energy

Car Park Solution for Flexible Green Energy

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Nov. 24, 2014) A British solar power start-up says that by covering millions of existing car park spaces around the UK with flexible solar panels, the country's power problems could be solved. Suzannah Butcher reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Ebola-Hit Sierra Leone's Late Cocoa Leaves Bitter Taste

Ebola-Hit Sierra Leone's Late Cocoa Leaves Bitter Taste

AFP (Nov. 23, 2014) The arable district of Kenema in Sierra Leone -- at the centre of the Ebola outbreak in May -- has been under quarantine for three months as the cocoa harvest comes in. Duration: 01:32 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
NY Gov. on Flood Prep: 'prepared for the Worst'

NY Gov. on Flood Prep: 'prepared for the Worst'

AP (Nov. 23, 2014) First came the big storm. Now comes the big melt for residents of flood-prone areas around Buffalo. New York's governor says officials are preparing for the worst as the temperature is expected to rise and potentially melt several feet of snow. (Nov. 23) Video provided by AP
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