The Importance Of Ocean Currents To Survival On Planet Earth

1959 words - 8 pages

Earth has been called the blue planet and not without reason. The ocean covers about three quarters of the earth’s surface and plays a vital role in our survival. It bounty feeds millions of people daily. Its surface absorbs more than ninety five percent of the solar radiation that reaches our planet. It is integral to the water cycle and it regulates our planets climate. But none of these roles would be fulfilled without the movement of the ocean. The currents, ribbons of movement within the greater body of water, provide the means with which our ocean distributes the nutrients and energy necessary for continued life upon earth. What are these currents and why are they so essential to our survival?
The currents at the surface of the ocean are split in to two categories, tidal currents and surface currents. Tidal currents occur around land masses and are influenced mainly by the gravitational pull of our sun and moon. They change rapidly but predictably and contribute to surface currents. Surface currents occur over different areas of earth’s ocean. Two main factors affecting the surface currents are wind and the Coriolis Effect. The Coriolis Effect explains how the rotation of the earth seems to cause a deflection of anything moving above the earth’s surface. It is this effect that causes winds and water in the northern hemisphere to appear to deflect to the right and in the southern hemisphere to deflect to the left. One of the major surface currents is the Gulf Stream. Water in around the Caribbean is warmed by the sun and then carried north and east along the coast North America. These sun warmed waters release their stored energy into the westerly winds and Northern Europe benefits by having a much milder winter than they might otherwise have to endure. These Gulf Stream waters eventually reach the Arctic Ocean where they cool and begin to freeze. The freezing of the ocean waters is where the cycle for the Deep Ocean Current begins.
The Deep Ocean Current has been called a giant conveyor belt because that is exactly what it resembles. It churns the entire body of water contained on our planet from bottom to top. While the surfaces currents move at a relatively fast pace, the conveyor belt is much slower. The deep ocean current moves at about four inches per second. Oceanographers believe it takes anywhere from five hundred to a thousand years for the conveyor to make one circuit of the planet. This conveyor belt uses thermohaline circulation to move the water. Thermo- meaning heat and -haline meaning salt. Cooling water in the north Atlantic begins to freeze forming ocean ice. Salt does not freeze, so as the ocean ice is formed the salt that remains behind causes a higher salinity in the surrounding waters. The colder and saltier water becomes the denser it becomes. This cold, salty, dense water begins to sink and warmer less salty water rushes in to takes its place. Then this water gets colder and saltier and it too begins to...

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