On the Oceanic Thermohaline Circulation

  • A. Colin de Verdière
Part of the NATO ASI Series book series (volume 11)


Forced by heat flux, evaporation and precipitation at the air sea interface that vary in latitude, the ocean adjusts to a circulation that feeds upon the temperature and salinity differences through the development of pressure gradients. Under steady state conditions, the role of that circulation is to transport the excess heat absorbed in low latitudes to high latitudes, where cooling predominates, through a poleward warm upper branch and a return equatorward cold lower branch. Under present day conditions, the most conspicuous evidence for such a circulation is the existence of the North Atlantic Deep Water (NADW), a water mass which is formed through a combination of deep convection and lateral mixing in the Norwegian Sea and moves southward to the Antarctic Circumpolar Ocean, and then to the Pacific Ocean. On the other hand there is no such direct deep water mass formation in the Pacific, a difference that may be not too surprising now that the study of paleoclimates has revealed that the thermohaline circulation has also changed temporally and was considerably different during the glaciations period. Broecker et al. (1985) suggested the important role of deep ocean circulation in setting the climate of the quaternary and indicated that changes could occur rapidly through modifications of the global hydrological cycle triggering migration from one state of equilibrium to another. This gave fuel to the old idea of Stommel (1961) who showed that a two component fluid such as seawater could exhibit several equilibrium states if the two components temperature and salinity evolve according to different mixing coefficients or surface boundary conditions.


Potential Vorticity Relative Vorticity Subtropical Gyre Thermohaline Circulation Buoyancy Flux 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • A. Colin de Verdière
    • 1
  1. 1.Laboratoire de Physique des OcéansUMR127 CNRSIfremerFrance

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