The Web of Life (19-3) Ocean Circulation & Climate

Ocean Circulation & Climate

Ocean circulation impacts climate and vice versa in a worldwide gyre.


Globally, ocean currents form loops and vortices, with eddies that can create variations in flow. Ocean eddies may be 500 km across at the surface and reach all the way to the bottom of the ocean. These massive eddies transport all manner of matter and thermal energy over long distances. The swirl of ocean eddies mirrors those of black holes.

The boundaries of water-carrying eddies satisfy the same type of differential equations that the area surrounding black holes do in general relativity. ~ American mathematician George Haller

Ocean eddies are weather makers: locally affecting near-surface winds, clouds, and rainfall patterns. A slackening cyclonic eddy takes the sail out of near-surface winds, which lessens cloud formation, and thereby reduces rainfall.

With climate change comes shifts in eddies. Altering these gyres will transport marine species to new areas. Reductions in polar sea ice will introduce life that originated in the Pacific and Atlantic into Arctic and subarctic oceans, thereby accelerating biogeochemical cycles. Severe disruption to marine ecosystems is inevitable with the current rapidly changing climate.


Numerous dynamics affect currents in the oceanic gyre: Earth’s rotation and latitudinal variations; ocean basin and landmass configurations; water temperature, salinity, and density; and wind.