A gyre in oceanography is any large system of rotating ocean currents, particularly those involved with large wind movements. Gyres are caused by the Coriolis Effect; planetary vorticity along with horizontal and vertical friction, which determine the circulation patterns from the wind curl (torque). The term gyre can be used to refer to any type of vortex in the air or the sea, even one that is man-made, but it is most commonly used in oceanography to refer to the major ocean systems.
The following are the five most notable gyres:
Tropical gyres are less unified and tend to be mostly east-west with minor north-south extent.
- Atlantic Equatorial Current System (two counter-rotating circulations)
- Pacific Equatorial Current System
- Indian Monsoon Gyres (two counter-rotating circulations in northern Indian Ocean)
The center of a subtropical gyre is a high pressure zone. Circulation around the high pressure is clockwise in the northern hemisphere and counterclockwise in the southern hemisphere, due to the Coriolis effect. The high pressure in the center is due to the westerly winds on the northern side of the gyre and easterly trade winds on the southern side of the gyre. These cause frictional surface currents towards the latitude at the center of the gyre. The build-up of water in the center of the gyre creates equatorward flow in the upper 1,000 to 2,000 m (3,300 to 6,600 ft) of the ocean, through rather complex dynamics. This equatorward flow is returned poleward in an intensified western boundary current.
The intensified western boundary current of the North Atlantic Gyre is the Gulf Stream, in the North Pacific it's the Kuroshio Current, in the South Atlantic it's the Brazil Current, in the South Pacific it's the East Australian Current, and in the Indian Ocean it's the Agulhas Current.
Subpolar gyres form at high latitudes (around 60°). Circulation of surface wind and ocean water is counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere, around a low-pressure area, such as the persistent Aleutian Low and the Icelandic Low. Surface currents generally move outward from the center of the system. This drives the Ekman transport, which creates an upwelling of nutrient-rich water from the lower depths.
Subpolar circulation in the southern hemisphere is dominated by the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, due to the lack of large landmasses breaking up the Southern Ocean. There are minor gyres in the Weddell Sea and the Ross Sea, the Weddell Gyre and Ross Gyre, which circulate in a clockwise direction.
Recently stronger winds, especially the subtropical trade winds in the Pacific ocean have provided a mechanism for vertical heat distribution. The effect are changes in the ocean currents, increasing the subtropical overturning, which are also related to the El Niño and La Niña phenomenon. Depending on stochastic natural variability fluctuations, during La Niña years around 30% more heat from the upper ocean layer is transported into the deeper ocean. Several studies in recent years, found a multidecadal increase in OHC of the deep and upper ocean regions and attribute the heat uptake to anthropogenic warming.
Influence of Coriolis effect and Ekman transport
The influence of the Coriolis effect on westward intensification. Without the Coriolis effect, water currents would form a regular and symmetrical gyre. However, because the Coriolis effect is strongest near the poles, water flowing eastward at high latitudes (red arrows) turns sooner to the right (clockwise), "short circuiting" the gyre. And because the Coriolis effect is nonexistent at the equator, water flowing westward near the equator (green arrows) tends not to turn clockwise until it encounters a blocking continent. Westward boundary currents are therefore faster and deeper than eastern boundary currents, and the geostrophic hill is offset to the west.
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- Heinemann, B. and the Open University (1998) Ocean circulation, Oxford University Press: Page 98
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- Balmaseda, Trenberth & Källén (2013). [ Essay Distinctive climate signals in reanalysis of global ocean heat content]. doi:10.1002/grl.50382.
- Abraham et al. (2013). A review of global ocean temperature observations: Implications for ocean heat content estimates and climate change. doi:10.1002/rog.20022.
|Look up Gyre in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
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