From the solar system to the deepest oceans, the universe is interconnected, with various aspects relying on each other. Speaking of interconnection and reliance, ocean currents play a huge role in shaping the planet’s ecosystem and climate.
With this in mind, it’s crucial to understand how these ocean currents work to protect and be more aware of the environment. From the mysterious deep-sea currents to the ones influencing the European climate, here are some ocean current facts to help you understand the correlation between science and the sea.
1. 2 Types Of Ocean Currents Are Available
Different definitions of ocean currents are available, ranging from the simplest to the most complex. Simply put, ocean currents refer to the constant directed movements of seawater. Various factors aid these movements, but first, there are two types of ocean currents:
As their name suggests, surface ocean currents occur on top of the water body (sea, lakes, oceans, etc.). They are responsible for heat transfer from the tropics to the Polar Regions, affecting weather and climate in the regions in between.
A perfect example of a surface ocean current is the Gulf Stream, which originates in the tropical Caribbean. These currents are so strong that they are estimated to carry 150 times more water than the Amazon River. They operate majorly on the Atlantic Ocean and affect Europe.
Deep Ocean Currents
Ocean currents move both horizontally and vertically. In the oceans in colder regions such as the North Atlantic Ocean, water tends to lose its heat to the atmosphere. As a result, as ocean water freezes, it forms ice, leaving more salt behind. The more the remaining water becomes saltier, the denser it turns.
Naturally, the dense, cold, salty water will sink to the bottom of the ocean, and “fresher” water will replace the sunken. The process repeats itself, resulting in a conveyer-like chain, and that’s how deep ocean currents ensue.
2. Various Factors Affect Ocean Currents
Different factors affect ocean currents, regardless of whether they are deep or surface ocean currents. They include seawater density, planetary winds, continental structure, temperature differences, and the earth’s rotation. These determine the strength, direction, and effects of water currents.
3. Ocean Currents Are Among the Deadliest Natural Calamities
A rip current is an example of surface ocean currents that have claimed lives before and remain dangerous. They usually flow from the beach to the ocean or other large water bodies. In extreme circumstances, rip currents as wide as 45 meters (150 feet) have been recorded.
On average, a rip current is less than 9 meters (30 feet) and moves at about 8 kilometers (5 miles) an hour. With the United States Lifesaving Association (USLA) approximating that the currents contribute to 80% of their rescue-related cases, it’s easy to see why rip currents are among the deadliest natural disasters.
The rip currents underwater equivalent is the undertows (the two are often confused). The latter operates mainly on the sea floor and can drag humans with it.
4. There Are Various Examples of Ocean Currents
Given that there are several oceans in the world, it’s only logical that there are numerous examples of ocean currents acting on/in them. The most common ones include:
- The Agulhas Current operates on the Indian Ocean, regulating temperatures in the regions around it.
- Antarctic Circumpolar Current: This regulates the temperature of the Southern Ocean region. It acts on the Southern Ocean.
- Gulf Stream Current: These currents are formed in the Gulf of Mexico and affect the North Atlantic region.
- Kuroshio Current: These currents are majorly on the Pacific Ocean, impacting the North Pacific region.
- California Current: these affect North America’s west coast and facilitate sea life for various species, including dolphins and whales.
5. Ocean Currents Help Aquatic Animals Survive
There are cold and warm ocean currents, each with advantages and undoing. For instance, warm currents bring rain to the coastal regions. The North Atlantic Drift is a perfect example – it facilitates the rainfall in most Western European areas.
On the other hand, cold polar currents result in large ice bergs where aquatic animals can get fresh water. Generally, ocean currents distribute water and nutrients for the survival of fishes and other water species.
6. They Aid Ship Navigation
Knowledge of ocean currents is essential in ship navigation and all that it entails. It’s through learning the sea patterns that manufacturers can get the most out of their vessels. They also devise ways to reduce fuel costs and general shipping activities.
In the past, when sailing ships relied majorly on the wind to move, inadequate ocean current knowledge cost the Portuguese. The Agulhas current prevented them from reaching India as they had planned. Learning about ocean currents helps build more efficient and fast vessels in the modern world.
7. Electric Power Production from Ocean Currents Is a Possibility
Research shows that ocean currents have a tremendous potential to generate electrical energy. If anything, some countries, such as Japan and states like Hawaii, have already explored this possibility. Their marine power generation is proving fruitful even though they are still in the earlier stages.