Geostrophic current

A geostrophic current is an oceanic current in which the pressure gradient force is balanced by the Coriolis effect. The direction of geostrophic flow is parallel to the isobars, with the high pressure to the right of the flow in the Northern Hemisphere, and the high pressure to the left in the Southern Hemisphere. This concept is familiar from weather maps, whose isobars show the direction of geostrophic flow in the atmosphere. Geostrophic flow may be either barotropic or baroclinic. A geostrophic current may also be thought of as a rotating shallow water wave with a frequency of zero. The principle of geostrophy is useful to oceanographers because it allows them to infer ocean currents from measurements of the sea surface height (by combined satellite altimetry and gravimetry) or from vertical profiles of seawater density taken by ships or autonomous buoys. The major currents of the world's oceans, such as the Gulf Stream, the Kuroshio Current, the Agulhas Current, and the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, are all approximately in geostrophic balance and are examples of geostrophic currents.

An example of a geostrophic flow in the Northern Hemisphere.
Geostrophic current 1 NT
A northern-hemisphere gyre in geostrophic balance. Paler water is less dense than dark water, but more dense than air; the outwards pressure gradient is balanced by the 90 degrees-right-of-flow coriolis force. The structure will eventually dissipate due to friction and mixing of water properties.

Simple explanation

Sea water naturally tends to move from a region of high pressure (or high sea level) to a region of low pressure (or low sea level). The force pushing the water towards the low pressure region is called the pressure gradient force. In a geostrophic flow, instead of water moving from a region of high pressure (or high sea level) to a region of low pressure (or low sea level), it moves along the lines of equal pressure (isobars). This occurs because the Earth is rotating. The rotation of the earth results in a "force" being felt by the water moving from the high to the low, known as Coriolis force. The Coriolis force acts at right angles to the flow, and when it balances the pressure gradient force, the resulting flow is known as geostrophic.

As stated above, the direction of flow is with the high pressure to the right of the flow in the Northern Hemisphere, and the high pressure to the left in the Southern Hemisphere. The direction of the flow depends on the hemisphere, because the direction of the Coriolis force is opposite in the different hemispheres.


The geostrophic equations are a simplified form of the Navier–Stokes equations in a rotating reference frame. In particular, it is assumed that there is no acceleration (steady-state), that there is no viscosity, and that the pressure is hydrostatic. The resulting balance is (Gill, 1982):

where is the Coriolis parameter, is the density, is the pressure and are the velocities in the -directions respectively.

One special property of the geostrophic equations, is that they satisfy the steady-state version of the continuity equation. That is:

Rotating waves of zero frequency

The equations governing a linear, rotating shallow water wave are:

The assumption of steady-state made above (no acceleration) is:

Alternatively, we can assume a wave-like, periodic, dependence in time:

In this case, if we set , we have reverted to the geostrophic equations above. Thus a geostrophic current can be thought of as a rotating shallow water wave with a frequency of zero.

See also


  • Gill, Adrian E. (1982), Atmosphere-Ocean Dynamics, International Geophysics Series, 30, Oxford: Academic Press, ISBN 0-12-283522-0
Bahama Banks

The Bahama Banks are the submerged carbonate platforms that make up much of the Bahama Archipelago. The term is usually applied in referring to either the Great Bahama Bank around Andros Island, or the Little Bahama Bank of Grand Bahama Island and Great Abaco, which are the largest of the platforms, and the Cay Sal Bank north of Cuba. The islands of these banks are politically part of the Bahamas. Other banks are the three banks of the Turks and Caicos Islands, namely the Caicos Bank of the Caicos Islands, the bank of the Turks Islands, and wholly submerged Mouchoir Bank. Further southeast are the equally wholly submerged Silver Bank and Navidad Bank north of the Dominican Republic.

Carbonate platform

A carbonate platform is a sedimentary body which possesses topographic relief, and is composed of autochthonic calcareous deposits. Platform growth is mediated by sessile organisms whose skeletons build up the reef or by organisms (usually microbes) which induce carbonate precipitation through their metabolism. Therefore, carbonate platforms can not grow up everywhere: they are not present in places where limiting factors to the life of reef-building organisms exist. Such limiting factors are, among others: light, water temperature, transparency and pH-Value. For example, carbonate sedimentation along the Atlantic South American coasts takes place everywhere but at the mouth of the Amazon River, because of the intense turbidity of the water there. Spectacular examples of present-day carbonate platforms are the Bahama Banks under which the platform is roughly 8 km thick, the Yucatan Peninsula which is up to 2 km thick, the Florida platform, the platform on which the Great Barrier Reef is growing, and the Maldive atolls. All these carbonate platforms and their associated reefs are confined to tropical latitudes. Today's reefs are built mainly by scleractinian corals, but in the distant past other organisms, like archaeocyatha (during the Cambrian) or extinct cnidaria (tabulata and rugosa) were important reef builders.

Ekman velocity

In oceanography, Ekman velocity – also referred as a kind of the residual ageostropic velocity as it derivates from geostrophy – is part of the total horizontal velocity (u) in the upper layer of water of the open ocean. This velocity, caused by winds blowing over the surface of the ocean, is such that the Coriolis force on this layer is balanced by the force of the wind.

Typically, it takes about two days for the Ekman velocity to develop before it is directed at right angles to the wind. The Ekman velocity is named after the Swedish oceanographer Vagn Walfrid Ekman (1874–1954).

Geophysical fluid dynamics

Geophysical fluid dynamics, in its broadest meaning, refers to the fluid dynamics of naturally occurring flows, such as lava flows, oceans, and planetary atmospheres, on Earth and other planets.Two physical features that are common to many of the phenomena studied in geophysical fluid dynamics are rotation of the fluid due to the planetary rotation and stratification (layering). The applications of geophysical fluid dynamics do not generally include the circulation of the mantle, which is the subject of geodynamics, or fluid phenomena in the magnetosphere.

Geostrophic wind

The geostrophic wind () is the theoretical wind that would result from an exact balance between the Coriolis force and the pressure gradient force. This condition is called geostrophic balance. The geostrophic wind is directed parallel to isobars (lines of constant pressure at a given height). This balance seldom holds exactly in nature. The true wind almost always differs from the geostrophic wind due to other forces such as friction from the ground. Thus, the actual wind would equal the geostrophic wind only if there were no friction and the isobars were perfectly straight. Despite this, much of the atmosphere outside the tropics is close to geostrophic flow much of the time and it is a valuable first approximation. Geostrophic flow in air or water is a zero-frequency inertial wave.

Index of wave articles

This is a list of Wave topics.

List of submarine volcanoes

A list of active and extinct submarine volcanoes and seamounts located under the world's oceans. There are estimated to be 40,000 to 55,000 seamounts in the global oceans. Almost all are not well-mapped and many may not have been identified at all. Most are unnamed and unexplored. This list is therefore confined to seamounts that are notable enough to have been named and/or explored.

Ocean current

An ocean current is a continuous, directed movement of sea water generated by a number of forces acting upon the water, including wind, the Coriolis effect, breaking waves, cabbeling, and temperature and salinity differences. Depth contours, shoreline configurations, and interactions with other currents influence a current's direction and strength. Ocean currents are primarily horizontal water movements.

An ocean current flows for great distances and together they create the global conveyor belt, which plays a dominant role in determining the climate of many of Earth’s regions. More specifically, ocean currents influence the temperature of the regions through which they travel. For example, warm currents traveling along more temperate coasts increase the temperature of the area by warming the sea breezes that blow over them. Perhaps the most striking example is the Gulf Stream, which makes northwest Europe much more temperate than any other region at the same latitude. Other example is Lima, Peru, where the climate is cooler, being sub-tropical, than the tropical latitudes in which the area is located, due to the effect of the Humboldt Current.

Oceanic plateau

An oceanic or submarine plateau is a large, relatively flat elevation that is higher than the surrounding relief with one or more relatively steep sides.There are 184 oceanic plateaus covering an area of 18,486,600 km2 (7,137,700 sq mi), or about 5.11% of the oceans. The South Pacific region around Australia and New Zealand contains the greatest number of oceanic plateaus (see map).

Oceanic plateaus produced by large igneous provinces are often associated with hotspots, mantle plumes, and volcanic islands — such as Iceland, Hawaii, Cape Verde, and Kerguelen. The three largest plateaus, the Caribbean, Ontong Java, and Mid-Pacific Mountains, are located on thermal swells. Other oceanic plateaus, however, are made of rifted continental crust, for example Falkland Plateau, Lord Howe Rise, and parts of Kerguelen, Seychelles, and Arctic ridges.

Plateaus formed by large igneous provinces were formed by the equivalent of continental flood basalts such as the Deccan Traps in India and the Snake River Plain in the United States.

In contrast to continental flood basalts, most igneous oceanic plateaus erupt through young and thin (6–7 km (3.7–4.3 mi)) mafic or ultra-mafic crust and are therefore uncontaminated by felsic crust and representative for their mantle sources.

These plateaus often rise 2–3 km (1.2–1.9 mi) above the surrounding ocean floor and are more buoyant than oceanic crust. They therefore tend to withstand subduction, more-so when thick and when reaching subduction zones shortly after their formations. As a consequence, they tend to "dock" to continental margins and be preserved as accreted terranes. Such terranes are often better preserved than the exposed parts of continental flood basalts and are therefore a better record of large-scale volcanic eruptions throughout Earth's history. This "docking" also means that oceanic plateaus are important contributors to the growth of continental crust. Their formations often had a dramatic impact on global climate, such as the most recent plateaus formed, the three, large, Cretaceous oceanic plateaus in the Pacific and Indian Ocean: Ontong Java, Kerguelen, and Caribbean.

Outline of oceanography

The following outline is provided as an overview of and introduction to Oceanography.

Overturning in the Subpolar North Atlantic Program

The Overturning in the Subpolar North Atlantic Program (OSNAP) is an international project designed to study the mechanistic link between water mass transformation at high latitudes and the meridional overturning circulation in the North Atlantic (AMOC ) on interannual time scales. Though this linkage is evident in climate models on decadal time scales, to date there has been no clear demonstration of AMOC variability in response to changes in deep water formation on interannual and decadal time scales. OSNAP intends to fill that gap by providing a continuous record of the trans-basin fluxes of heat, mass and freshwater for a comparison to records of convective activity and water mass transformation at high latitudes in the North Atlantic.

The OSNAP observing system, fully deployed in the summer of 2014, consists of moorings, gliders and RAFOS floats spanning the subpolar North Atlantic from Labrador to Greenland to Scotland. Measurement contributions come from the US, the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Canada, China and France. Vigorous boundary currents crossing the OSNAP line are directly measured in the Labrador and Irminger Seas by current meter arrays, and over the eastern flank of the Reykjanes Ridge by deep arrays. Geostrophic currents in the basin interior are estimated using temperature and salinity measurements from moorings and gliders. The AMOC is calculated on the basis of the directly measured boundary currents, the geostrophic currents and the Ekman transports estimated from the surface wind stress.In conjunction with the RAPID/MOCHA array at 26⁰N, the EU THOR/NACLIM program and other observational elements, OSNAP will provide a comprehensive measure of the three-dimensional AMOC in the North Atlantic and an understanding of what drives its variability. The first OSNAP data products are expected in the fall of 2017.

Physical oceanography

Physical oceanography is the study of physical conditions and physical processes within the ocean, especially the motions and physical properties of ocean waters.

Physical oceanography is one of several sub-domains into which oceanography is divided. Others include biological, chemical and geological oceanography.

Physical oceanography may be subdivided into descriptive and dynamical physical oceanography.Descriptive physical oceanography seeks to research the ocean through observations and complex numerical models, which describe the fluid motions as precisely as possible.

Dynamical physical oceanography focuses primarily upon the processes that govern the motion of fluids with emphasis upon theoretical research and numerical models. These are part of the large field of Geophysical Fluid Dynamics (GFD) that is shared together with meteorology. GFD is a sub field of Fluid dynamics describing flows occurring on spatial and temporal scales that are greatly influenced by the Coriolis force.

Thermal bar

A thermal bar is a hydrodynamic feature that forms around the edges of holomictic lakes during the seasonal transition to stratified conditions, due to the shorter amount of time required for shallow areas of the lake to stratify.

Thermohaline circulation

Thermohaline circulation (THC) is a part of the large-scale ocean circulation that is driven by global density gradients created by surface heat and freshwater fluxes. The adjective thermohaline derives from thermo- referring to temperature and -haline referring to salt content, factors which together determine the density of sea water. Wind-driven surface currents (such as the Gulf Stream) travel polewards from the equatorial Atlantic Ocean, cooling en route, and eventually sinking at high latitudes (forming North Atlantic Deep Water). This dense water then flows into the ocean basins. While the bulk of it upwells in the Southern Ocean, the oldest waters (with a transit time of around 1000 years) upwell in the North Pacific. Extensive mixing therefore takes place between the ocean basins, reducing differences between them and making the Earth's oceans a global system. The water in these circuits transport both energy (in the form of heat) and mass (dissolved solids and gases) around the globe. As such, the state of the circulation has a large impact on the climate of the Earth.

The thermohaline circulation is sometimes called the ocean conveyor belt, the great ocean conveyor, or the global conveyor belt. On occasion, it is used to refer to the meridional overturning circulation (often abbreviated as MOC). The term MOC is more accurate and well defined, as it is difficult to separate the part of the circulation which is driven by temperature and salinity alone as opposed to other factors such as the wind and tidal forces. Moreover, temperature and salinity gradients can also lead to circulation effects that are not included in the MOC itself.

Undersea mountain range

Undersea mountain ranges are mountain ranges that are mostly or entirely underwater, and specifically under the surface of an ocean. If originated from current tectonic forces, they are often referred to as a mid-ocean ridge. In contrast, if formed by past above-water volcanism, they are known as a seamount chain. The largest and best known undersea mountain range is a mid-ocean ridge, the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. It has been observed that, "similar to those on land, the undersea mountain ranges are the loci of frequent volcanic and earthquake activity".

Wave base

The wave base, in physical oceanography, is the maximum depth at which a water wave's passage causes significant water motion. For water depths deeper than the wave base, bottom sediments and the seafloor are no longer stirred by the wave motion above.

Ocean zones
Sea level


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