Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Equatorial water belt slackens

07.02.2002


30 years of slowing Pacific circulation may have changed climate


Less carbon may have reached the atmosphere from the Pacific Ocean surface over the past two decades
© Noella Ballenger



A recent slowing in the circulation of Pacific Ocean waters could have raised Pacific sea surface temperatures. It may even mean that less carbon has reached the atmosphere from the ocean surface over the past two decades.

Across the Pacific, water circulates in two giant loops in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. It flows from the subtropics to the tropics about at a depth of 100-400 metres, rises to the surface at the equator, and heads back towards the poles at the surface.


This circulation has changed since the 1970s, say Michael McPhaden of the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, Seattle, Washington, and his colleague Dongxiao Zhang of the University of Washington in Seattle1. Thirty years down the line, the amount of subtropical water that reaches the equatorial Pacific sea surface has dropped by 25%.

It had already been noticed that the temperature of the sea surface at the equatorial Pacific has risen by 0.8 oC over the past 30 years. This had puzzled researchers, as cloudy skies in this area have become more frequent over the past 50 years, providing cooling shade. McPhaden and Zhang’s finding explains the warming: the supply of cool subtropical water has dropped.

Getting warmer

The warming that sluggish circulation has brought to the equatorial Pacific may have something to do with the shift in the mid-1970s towards stronger, longer and more frequent El Niño events, in which ocean temperatures and wind patterns fluctuate.

El Niño events cause erratic weather around the world, including droughts in Southeast Africa and floods in parts of South America. But the link between decade-long circulation changes and shifts in the three- to seven-year El Niño cycles needs further investigation.

Nor can connections to global warming be untangled yet. "The beauty of the study is that it works with observations. So we know that the slowing effect is real and not just speculation," says Richard Kleeman, of the Center for Atmosphere Ocean Science, New York.

But it is too early, he thinks, to decide whether - or indeed how - the new results might tie in with the changing climate. "It is a very complex system," he says.

One potential connection lies in the carbon cycle. "The tropical Pacific is the largest oceanic source of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere," McPhaden and Zhang point out. The slowing circulation implies that less of this greenhouse gas has reached the ocean surface over the past decade. So, in the short term, the slowing circulation has helped to keep global warming at bay.

References

  1. McPhaden, M. J. & Zhang, D. Slowdown of the meridional overturning circulation in the upper Pacific Ocean. Nature, 415, 603 - 3608, (2002).

HEIKE LANGENBERG | © Nature News Service
Further information:
http://www.nature.com/nsu/020204/020204-8.html

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht NASA looks to solar eclipse to help understand Earth's energy system
21.07.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

nachricht Scientists shed light on carbon's descent into the deep Earth
19.07.2017 | European Synchrotron Radiation Facility

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Manipulating Electron Spins Without Loss of Information

Physicists have developed a new technique that uses electrical voltages to control the electron spin on a chip. The newly-developed method provides protection from spin decay, meaning that the contained information can be maintained and transmitted over comparatively large distances, as has been demonstrated by a team from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute. The results have been published in Physical Review X.

For several years, researchers have been trying to use the spin of an electron to store and transmit information. The spin of each electron is always coupled...

Im Focus: The proton precisely weighted

What is the mass of a proton? Scientists from Germany and Japan successfully did an important step towards the most exact knowledge of this fundamental constant. By means of precision measurements on a single proton, they could improve the precision by a factor of three and also correct the existing value.

To determine the mass of a single proton still more accurate – a group of physicists led by Klaus Blaum and Sven Sturm of the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear...

Im Focus: On the way to a biological alternative

A bacterial enzyme enables reactions that open up alternatives to key industrial chemical processes

The research team of Prof. Dr. Oliver Einsle at the University of Freiburg's Institute of Biochemistry has long been exploring the functioning of nitrogenase....

Im Focus: The 1 trillion tonne iceberg

Larsen C Ice Shelf rift finally breaks through

A one trillion tonne iceberg - one of the biggest ever recorded -- has calved away from the Larsen C Ice Shelf in Antarctica, after a rift in the ice,...

Im Focus: Laser-cooled ions contribute to better understanding of friction

Physics supports biology: Researchers from PTB have developed a model system to investigate friction phenomena with atomic precision

Friction: what you want from car brakes, otherwise rather a nuisance. In any case, it is useful to know as precisely as possible how friction phenomena arise –...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Closing the Sustainability Circle: Protection of Food with Biobased Materials

21.07.2017 | Event News

»We are bringing Additive Manufacturing to SMEs«

19.07.2017 | Event News

The technology with a feel for feelings

12.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

NASA looks to solar eclipse to help understand Earth's energy system

21.07.2017 | Earth Sciences

Stanford researchers develop a new type of soft, growing robot

21.07.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Vortex photons from electrons in circular motion

21.07.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>