Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

How much water does the ocean have?

13.11.2009
Geodesy researchers observe the mass distribution of the oceans

The calculation of variations in the sea level is relatively simple. It is by far more complicated to then determine the change in the water mass. A team of geodesists and oceanographers from the University of Bonn, as well as from the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences and the Alfred-Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Sciences, two centres of the Helmholtz Association, have now, for the first time succeeded in doing this.

The researchers were able to observe short-term fluctuations in the spatial distribution of the ocean water masses. Their results are, amongst others, important for improved climate models.

In order to determine the ocean volume in a certain region, one only needs to know, in addition to the topography of the seabed, the height of the sea level. For this purpose, researchers have long been resorting to gauging stations and satellite altimetric procedures. The ocean mass depends, however, not only on the volume, but also on the temperature and on the salt content. Water expands when heated. Warm water, thus, weighs less than the same quantity of cold water.

For the calculation of the ocean mass it is, therefore, necessary to know the temperature and salt content profiles. However, this is not easy to quantify. "For our study we, therefore, combined different procedures so as to be able to judge changes in mass", explains Professor Dr. Juergen Kusche. The geodesist from Bonn is co-author of a scientific paper, which has just been published in the Journal of Geophysical Research.

On the one hand the researchers used data from the German-American satellite mission GRACE where the distance between two satellites (popularly known as Tom and Jerry as one chases the other in the same orbit ) are measured exactly to thousandths of millimetres. The larger the ocean mass at a certain point of the Earth, the stronger the gravitational strength. This influences the flight altitude of the satellites and thus the distance from each other. The gravitation and, hence, the mass distribution can be calculated from the change in distance between the two satellites.

The seabed bends under the weight of the water

In addition, the scientists put to use an effect which frequent book readers will have perceived. The ocean floor bends similarly to that of the shelves of an overfilled bookshelf. Thus, stationary GPS-gauging stations on land drop by up to one centimetre and move closer by a few millimetres. The heavier the water, the stronger is this movement.

"We combined these data with numerical models of the ocean" explains Kusche. "In this way we were able to prove, for the first time, that in particular in the higher latitudes, significant fluctuations of the water mass occur, and that this takes place within a time period of only one to two weeks".

So far one only knew that the mass of the world-wide ocean water varies seasonally by on average approximately three quadrillion kilogrammes (a quadrillion equals to 1 followed by 15 zeroes) - that implies a sea level variation of approx. seven to eight millimetres. This effect is brought about, among others, by variations in precipitation and evaporation as well as by the storage of water as snow. But, also, the melting of the glaciers and the ice masses in Greenland and in the Antarctic play a role.

By comparing the variation in volume and in mass the researchers want to determine changes in the amount of heat stored in the ocean. Therefore, in the near future, the long term changes are to be examined. The results will contribute to improved climatic models.

An urgent wish of the scientists is the realisation of a punctual follow-up mission for the satellite tandem GRACE. Otherwise the valuable information, particular in the registration of trends in the Earth system, obtained through GRACE, cannot be used to its full potential for Earth System and climate research.

The work is financed by the German Research Council (DFG) within the priority programme "Mass transport and mass distributions in the System Earth. The programme is coordinated at the Institute for Geodesy and Geoinformation at the University of Bonn

Contact:
Dr. Frank Flechtner
GFZ Potsdam
Telefon: 08153/28-1297
E-Mail: Frank.Flechtner@gfz-potsdam.de

F. Ossing | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.gfz-potsdam.de

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Fizzy soda water could be key to clean manufacture of flat wonder material: Graphene

Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.

As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...

Im Focus: Exotic quantum states made from light: Physicists create optical “wells” for a super-photon

Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.

Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...

Im Focus: Circular RNA linked to brain function

For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.

While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...

Im Focus: RAVAN CubeSat measures Earth's outgoing energy

An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.

The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...

Im Focus: Scientists shine new light on the “other high temperature superconductor”

A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Call for Papers – ICNFT 2018, 5th International Conference on New Forming Technology

16.08.2017 | Event News

Sustainability is the business model of tomorrow

04.08.2017 | Event News

Clash of Realities 2017: Registration now open. International Conference at TH Köln

26.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Cholesterol-lowering drugs may fight infectious disease

22.08.2017 | Health and Medicine

Meter-sized single-crystal graphene growth becomes possible

22.08.2017 | Materials Sciences

Repairing damaged hearts with self-healing heart cells

22.08.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>