Visualize surface ocean circulation from space

For those of you interested in learning more about ocean currents, particularly those around the Gulf of Maine (where the Isles of Shoals are located), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration presents a cool new graphical representation:

One could spend several blog posts going into depth on different types of ocean currents, the processes that drive them, and their relationship to the atmosphere. So, instead, I point out a a few cool features here.

1. Massive clockwise and counterclockwise gyres (those big turning circles) in each of the major oceans. In the Northern Hemisphere they turn clockwise while in the Southern Hemisphere they move counterclockwise. Know why? That’s right it’s the Coriolis Effect in each hemisphere. Not sure what this means? Click on the words to be taken to a link which describes the Coriolis Effect. But, put simply, it’s the way the inertial force of a rotating object deflects the path of an object moving upon it (think of a child throwing a ball on a merry-go-round).

2. The equatorial current flows primarily Westward along the equator due to the prevalence of Trade Winds on the surface in this area. Not sure why there are Trade Winds? Check out this slightly technical explanation of them. Keep in mind that in that in El Nino years this dynamic is much less pronounced and often reverses as the Trade Winds weaken. This is something that could happen more frequently with anthropogenic climate change.

3. In the Gulf of Maine, you can clearly see cold waters coming down from the Arctic (first few seconds of this flick) to interact with warmer surface currents traveling up the Westward edge of the North Pacific Gyre. We call these warm waters the Gulf Stream. Find more on Gulf of Maine circulation here.

Still feeling confused? Or just want more information? Leave us a comment and we’ll be sure to answer you soon. Find out about some of the major types of currents by clicking on the images here.

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