Perpetual Ocean: High-Def View of Surface Currents

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Perpetual Ocean

Video Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio

A nifty animation from NASA illustrating the paths of global ocean surface currents from June 2005 through December 2007.

Surface currents circulate water of varying temperature around the globe and thus play a significant role in weather and climate patterns. Note the Gulf Stream along the western edge of the Atlantic Ocean. This powerful current transfers warm water away from the equator and up into the North Atlantic Ocean, in turn warming the climate along the eastern coast of North America and the western coast of Europe. It is believed that without that process, the weather in places like England and Ireland, most notably, would be very different than today and more closely resemble that found along the same latitude line in Northern Canada.  

Although it's not certain, many scientists believe that currents like the Gulf Stream stand to be impacted by global warming as the ice in places such as Greenland continues to melt and deposit a layer of freshwater onto the ocean's surface. If surface waters in critical locations become too fresh, it may slow-down the “conveyor belt” that is ocean circulation, a process driven by relative water densities. If this were to happen, weather and climate patterns around the world would be subject to change.