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9.8: The Gulf Stream and the Antarctic Circumpolar Currents

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    The Gulf Stream Current

    The Gulf Stream is a fast moving ocean current (Figure 9.15).
    • The North Equatorial Current moves east across the Atlantic Ocean in the Northern Hemisphere.
    • This flow splits into the Antilles Current (east of the West Indies) and the Caribbean Current (around the Gulf of Mexico).
    • These currents merge into the Florida Current. (about 30-50 miles [50-80 km] wide, moving 2-6 mph [3-10 km], and about a mile deep).
    • Along the East Coast, the Gulf Stream experiences western intensification.
    • North of Cape Hatteras (NC) the current moves away from the coast and gradually looses much of its intensity (by meandering) producing numerous warm and cold core rings.
    • The Gulf Stream gradually merges eastward with the water of the Sargasso Sea, the rotating center of the North Atlantic Gyre (named for floating marine alga (seaweed) called Sargassum that accumulates in the stagnant waters.
    • For comparison, the volume of water moved by the Gulf Stream is about 100 times all the world's rivers combined!

    Gulf Stream
    Figure 9.15. The Gulf Stream is the world's largest ocean current (revealed here by water temperature patterns).

    Antarctic Circumpolar Current

    • The Antarctic Circumpolar Current is the only current to completely encircle Earth (Figure 9.16).
    • The current moves more water than any other current.
    • The current is in a region of the world with intense winds and wave action.
    • The region has lots of upwelling - very "rich" ocean basin (nutrients for plankton; food for higher-level feeders)

    Antarctic Circumpolar Current Mixing Zone data
    Figure 9.16. Antarctic circumpolar current revealed by mixing zone depths.

    Antarctic Circumpolar Current (NOAA website); also see an animation of the changes in the mixing zone by seasons: Antarctic Circumpolar Current (NOAA)

    Climate Effects Of Ocean Currents

    • Cold water offshore results in dry condition on land (example: California).
    • Warm water offshore results in more humid condition on land (example: Florida).
    • Depends on seasonal wind patterns and water temperatures.
    • Depends also on regional geography along coastal regions.

    California climates based on geography and air flow
    Figure 9.17. California's climate and geographic factors.

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