Ocean's Biggest Current Carries More Water Than Thought

Posted: March 4, 2014

By: Becky Oskin [LiveScience]

The world's biggest wind-driven ocean current carries 20 percent more water than previously thought, scientists announced this week.

A team of oceanographers reported the results of four years of continuously monitoring the Antarctic Circumpolar Current on Monday (Feb. 24) at the 2014 Ocean Sciences Meeting of the American Geophysical Union in Honolulu. The Circumpolar Current circles Antarctica clockwise from west to east, speeding ships flowing with the current but providing resistance for those sailing in the opposite direction. The churning waters ferry heat, salt and marine life between the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans, but the current also isolates Antarctica from warmer waters to the north.

Because the Circumpolar Current plays an important role in moving heat around the planet, scientists are keen to better understand how the rotating flow may respond to climate change. For example, the wind-driven current could increase due to changing wind conditions around Antarctica. The band of westerly winds that drive the Circumpolar Current have both sped up and shifted southward in the past 60 years.

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