Subsurface currents

A subsurface current is an oceanic current that runs beneath surface currents.[1] Examples include the Equatorial Undercurrents of the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans, the California Undercurrent,[2] and the Agulhas Undercurrent,[3] the deep thermohaline circulation in the Atlantic, and bottom gravity currents near Antarctica. The forcing mechanisms vary for these different types of subsurface currents.

Density current

The most common of these is the density current, epitomized by the Thermohaline current. The density current works on a basic principle: the denser water sinks to the bottom, separating from the less dense water, and causing an opposite reaction from it. There are numerous factors controlling density.


One is the salinity of water, a prime example of this being the Mediterranean/Atlantic exchange. The saltier waters of the Mediterranean sink to the bottom and flow along there, until they reach the ledge between the two bodies of water. At this point, they rush over the ledge into the Atlantic, pushing the less saline surface water into the Mediterranean.


Another factor of density is temperature. Thermohaline (literally meaning heat-salty) currents are very influenced by heat. Cold water from glaciers, icebergs, etc. descends to join the ultra-deep, cold section of the worldwide Thermohaline current. After spending an exceptionally long time in the depths, it eventually heats up, rising to join the higher Thermohaline current section. Because of the temperature and expansiveness of the Thermohaline current, it is substantially slower, taking nearly 1000 years to run its worldwide circuit.

Turbidity current

One factor of density is so unique that it warrants its own current type. This is the turbidity current. Turbidity current is caused when the density of water is increased by sediment. This current is the underwater equivalent of a landslide. When sediment increases the density of the water, it falls to the bottom, and then follows the form of the land. In doing so, the sediment inside the current gathers more from the ocean bed, which in turn gathers more, and so on. As a limited amount of sediment can be carried by a certain amount of water, more water must become laded with sediment, until a huge, destructive current is washing down some marine hillside. It is theorized that submarine depths, such as the Marianas Trench have been caused in part by this action. There is one additional effect of turbidity currents: upwelling. All of the water rushing into ocean valleys displaces a significant amount of water. This water literally has nowhere to go but up. The upwelling current goes almost straight up. This spreads the nutrient rich ocean life to the surface, feeding some of the world’s largest fisheries. This current also helps Thermohaline currents return to the surface.

Ekman Spiral

An entirely different class of subsurface current is caused by friction with surface currents and objects. When the wind or some other surface force compels surface currents into motion, some of this is translated into subsurface motion. The Ekman Spiral, named after Vagn Walfrid Ekman, is the standard for this transfer of energy. The Ekman Spiral works as follows: when the surface moves, the subsurface inherits some -but not all- of this motion. Due to the Coriolis Effect, however, the current moves at a 45˚ angle to the right of the first (left in the Southern Hemisphere). The current below is slower yet, and moves at a 45˚ angle to the right. This process continues in the same manner, until, at about 100 meters below the surface, the current is moving in the opposite direction of the surface current.


The final type of subsurface current is subsidence, caused when forces push water against some obstacle (like a rock), causing it to pile up there. The water at the bottom of the pileup flows away from it, causing a subsidence current.

Wave Patterns

Various subsurface currents conflict at times, causing bizarre wave patterns. One of the most noticeable of these is the Maelstrom. The word is derived from Nordic words meaning to grind and stream. Essentially, the maelstrom is a large, very powerful whirlpool, a large swirling body of water being drawn down and inward toward its center. This is usually the result of tidal currents.


Subsurface currents have a large effect on life on earth. They flow beneath the surface of the water, allowing them to be relatively free of external influence. Thus, they function like clockwork, providing nutrient transportation, water transfer, etc., as well as affecting the ocean floor and submarine processes.

See also


  1. ^ "subsurface current". Glossary of Meteorology. American Meteorological Society.
  2. ^ Pierce, S. D. et al (2000). "[Pierce, S.D.; Smith, R.L.; Kosro, P.M.; Barth, J.A.; Wilson, C.D. (May 2000). "Continuity of the poleward undercurrent along the eastern boundary of the mid-latitude north Pacific". Deep-Sea Research Part II: Topical Studies in Oceanography. 47 (5–6): 811–829. doi:10.1016/S0967-0645(99)00128-9.
  3. ^ Beal, Lisa M. (2009). "A time-series of Agulhas Undercurrent transport". J. Phys. Oceanogr. 39 (10): 2436–50. doi:10.1175/2009JPO4195.1.
Alboran Sea

The Alboran Sea from Arabic (al-bahran, البحران) is the westernmost portion of the Mediterranean Sea, lying between the Iberian Peninsula and the north of Africa (Spain on the north and Morocco and Algeria on the south). The Strait of Gibraltar, which lies at the west end of the Alboran Sea, connects the Mediterranean with the Atlantic Ocean.

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.

Current (fluid)

A current in a fluid is the magnitude and direction of flow within that fluid. An air current presents the same properties specifically for a gaseous medium.

Types of fluid currents include

Boundary current

Current (stream), a current in a river or stream

Longshore current

Ocean current

Rip current

Rip tide

Subsurface currents

Turbidity current

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.

John C. Swallow

John Crossley Swallow FRS (October 11, 1923 – December 3, 1994) was an English oceanographer who invented the Swallow float (sometimes referred to as a neutral buoyancy float), a scientific drifting bottle based on the messages in bottles that shipwrecked sailors hoped would reach inhabited shores, summoning assistance.He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1968. He candidature citation read: "Dr. J.C. Swallow is internationally known both for his distinguished geophysical work on the voyages of H.M.S. "Challenger", and for his measurements of deep ocean currents. He is the inventor of the "Swallow float", a hydrostatically stable, freely drifting source of sound underwater, which can be followed by a ship at the surface. By numerous observations with this ingenious device, he and others have completely changed our picture of the deep circulation of the ocean, showing the presence of strong deep currents in the western North Atlantic, and a reverse flow beneath the Gulf Stream. He has recently contributed to our knowledge of the equatorial undercurrent and of other currents in the Indian Ocean. Dr. Swallow combines a devotion to his work and a careful attention to detail with a mastery of the practical handling of a research ship at sea. The quality and originality of his contributions has already been recognized in the U.S.A. by the award of the Bigelow Medal and of the Albatross Award of the American Miscellaneous Society."

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.

Multidimensional seismic data processing

Multidimensional seismic data processing forms a major component of seismic profiling, a technique used in geophysical exploration. The technique itself has various applications, including mapping ocean floors, determining the structure of sediments, mapping subsurface currents and hydrocarbon exploration. Since geophysical data obtained in such techniques is a function of both space and time, multidimensional signal processing techniques may be better suited for processing such data.

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.

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.


Tequisquiapan (Otomi: Ntʼe) (Spanish ) is a town and municipality located in the southeast of the state of Querétaro in central Mexico. The center of the town has cobblestone streets, traditional rustic houses with wrought iron fixtures, balconies, and wooden windowsills, which is the legacy of its 300-year heritage as a colonial town populated mostly by indigenous people. This, the climate, and the local natural water springs have made the town a popular weekend getaway for cities such as Querétaro and Mexico City, which has led to the construction of weekend homes in the town.

Tequisquiapan is part of Querétaro's Ruta de Vino (Wine Route) with La Redonda as the municipality's major producer. Grape production began in the early 1960s, but has become important enough to be featured on the municipality's seal. The town hosts the annual Feria Nacional del Queso y el Vino, (National Cheese and Wine Fair) which showcases southern Querétaro's cheese and wine production.

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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