When internal waves up to 300 feet first form they cause a mighty churning of ocean waters – something invisible to and unfelt by anyone at the surface.
Maps, the first of their kind, show energy of internal waves carried away from where they originated. The larger and longer the arrows (vectors) the more energy is being carried away from where the waves originated. The upper map shows that, in general, internal waves generated by storms move through the ocean depths toward the mid-latitudes. The lower maps shows energy moving directly away from places where tidal forces have created internal waves.Graphic credit required: University of Washington/Nature
Now in a novel use of mooring data, some of it three decades old, a University of Washington researcher has calculated just how much punch these waves appear to carry as they travel, or propagate, thousands of miles from where they originate.
Its energy that appears to be crucial to the conveyor-belt-like circulation wherein millions of cubic meters of icy-cold water sink each second at high latitudes and are driven to upwell at lower latitudes. Without such upwelling, global ocean circulation would stall, causing the entire ocean to fill with cold water. Further, nutrients that have drifted down to the ocean depths would remain in the deep instead of being carried back to surface waters for use by plankton, the tiny plants and animals on which all other marine life depend and which greatly affect how much carbon dioxide is absorbed and released by the oceans.
Sandra Hines | EurekAlert!
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