Florida State University oceanographer Kevin Speer has a “new paradigm” for describing how the world’s oceans circulate — and with it he may help reshape science’s understanding of the processes by which wind, water, sunlight and other factors interact and influence the planet’s climate.
A Florida State University professor of oceanography with a passion for teaching, Speer and a colleague recently published a significant paper in the respected journal Nature Geoscience.
Working with John Marshall, an oceanography professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Speer reviewed — or essentially synthesized — vast amounts of previous data on ocean circulation (including their own earlier papers). As a result, they have created what Speer calls a new paradigm in the study of ocean currents on a global scale.
Here’s how it works: Basically, the oceans, together with the atmosphere, rebalance heat on the planet. The sun shines on the Earth and heats up the tropics more than the poles. Near the poles, the ocean is cold and the water sinks; near the equator, the surface of the ocean is inviting and warm — and floats on top of the colder deep water.
So the question is this: Where does the water that goes down come back up?
Speer, Marshall and other oceanographers now believe that it comes back up in the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica — not as much in the warm oceans as had been previously thought.
“We’re not saying that nothing comes up in the rest of the World Ocean, just that the main thrust is in the Southern Ocean,” Speer said. “To a large extent it’s driven by the wind.”
Very strong winds, to be precise.
In the rough waters around Antarctica, sailors call those winds the “Roaring Forties” and the “Furious Fifties.” They originate near the Equator, where hot air rises and then is pushed toward the North and South poles by cooler air that rushes in to take its place.
The resulting “eddy-driven upwelling” in the Southern Ocean, as Speer characterizes it, may in fact describe the most important process to date that helps scientists understand the role of the ocean and climate.
Speer, who holds a doctorate in physical oceanography from the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Joint Program, spent years living in France as an oceanographic researcher for a French governmental agency. (Yes, he’s fluent in French.)
Today, from his office on the Florida State campus, Speer serves as interim director of the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Institute, a warren of intriguing laboratories just a few steps outside his door. It is there that Speer helps students and postdoctoral researchers learn about how climate works.
The laboratory’s equipment includes a large, vintage rotating table designed nearly a half-century ago by the lab’s founder, Florida State meteorology Professor Richard Pfeffer. (The device may be old, but it’s one of the biggest and best in the United States, Speer says). Here students can recreate the ocean’s churning and study natural phenomena such as the Antarctic circumpolar current.
Speer and his students have been studying ocean currents thanks to $2.5 million in funding from a larger $10 million National Science Foundation grant that FSU shares with eight other universities and institutions worldwide. Research has included releasing tracers and floats into the ocean to study the mixing and spreading of currents.
One of Speer’s graduate students, Druv Balwada, recently took part in a joint U.S.-United Kingdom research program to study ocean currents aboard a ship in the Southern Ocean. To view the cruise blog of the nearly three-month voyage, visit http://dimesuk3.blogspot.com/.
“Our students learn and help in various ways,” Speer said. “They certainly help generate some interesting and lively oceanographic research.
Speer and Marshall’s Nature Geoscience paper is titled “Closure of the Meridional Overturning Circulation Through Southern Ocean Upwelling.”Professor Kevin Speer
Professor Kevin Speer | Newswise Science News
GPM sees deadly tornadic storms moving through US Southeast
01.12.2016 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
Cyclic change within magma reservoirs significantly affects the explosivity of volcanic eruptions
30.11.2016 | Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water
In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...
The efficiency of power electronic systems is not solely dependent on electrical efficiency but also on weight, for example, in mobile systems. When the weight of relevant components and devices in airplanes, for instance, is reduced, fuel savings can be achieved and correspondingly greenhouse gas emissions decreased. New materials and components based on gallium nitride (GaN) can help to reduce weight and increase the efficiency. With these new materials, power electronic switches can be operated at higher switching frequency, resulting in higher power density and lower material costs.
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE together with partners have investigated how these materials can be used to make power...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
02.12.2016 | Medical Engineering
02.12.2016 | Agricultural and Forestry Science
02.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy