From: Roger Greenway, ENN
Published December 21, 2009 06:30 AM

US Geological Survey Study of Oceanic Circulation

The USGS released an important study of the deep ocean’s temperature variability and circulation system that could help improve projections of future climate conditions.

The deep ocean is apparently affected more by surface warming than previously thought, and this understanding allows for more accurate predictions of factors such as sea level rise and ice volume changes.


Higher ocean surface temperatures have been found to result in a more vigorous deep ocean circulation system. This increase results in a faster transport of large quantities of warm water, with possible impacts including reduction of sea ice extent and overall warming of the Arctic.

"The deep ocean is relatively unexplored, and we need a true understanding of its many complex processes," said U.S. Geological Survey Director Marcia McNutt.

USGS scientists created the first ever 3-D reconstruction of an ocean during a past warm period, focusing on the mid-Pliocene warm period 3.3 to 3 million years ago.

"The findings are significant because they improve our previous understanding that the deep ocean stayed at relatively constant, cold temperatures and that the deep ocean circulation system would slow down as surface temperatures increased," said USGS scientist Harry Dowsett. "By looking at conditions in the past, we acquire real data that allow us to see the global climate system as it actually functioned."

Each discovery like this enables more accurate climate models to be developed, assuming the necessary data are available. If they are not, discoveries like this point to the need to start obtaining the data necessary to incorporate the findings into our models. This, or course would lead to future improvements after more data are obtained.

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