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Five Major Ocean Gyres

Table of Contents:
1.
2.
3.
4.

Definition ----------------------------------------------------------------- Page 1


Mechanism of gyres movement ------------------------------------ Page 1
Subtropical gyres ------------------------------------------------------- Page 3
References ---------------------------------------------------------------- Page 6

1. Definition:
A combination of four forces, surface winds, Suns heat, Coriolis Effect and
Earths gravity circulates the ocean currents in specific patterns known as
gyres. These gyres circulate the ocean surface clockwise in northern
hemisphere and anticlockwise in southern hemisphere. There are three main
types of gyres known as sub-polar gyres, tropical gyres and sub-tropical
gyres. However in this paper we will focus only on five major subtropical
gyres.

2. Mechanism of gyre movements:


a. Effect of Wind:
It is quite evident from observations of ocean flow that the wind moves
water, and that the wind is one of the primary forces that drive ocean
currents. In the early part of the 20th century, a Norwegian scientist, Fridtjof
Nanson, noted that icebergs in the North Atlantic moved to the right of the
wind. His student, V. Walfrid Ekman, demonstrated that the earth's rotation
caused this effect and in particular, that the Coriolis force was responsible
and in the Southern Hemisphere, it causes water to move to the left of the
wind. One of the primary results of Ekman dynamics is that the net
movements of water, forced by large-scale winds, are to the right (left) of the
wind in the Northern (Southern) Hemisphere. This is a surprising result since
one would guess that water moves in the direction of the wind, and a quick
glance at wind and current data would also indicate this. For example, the
Gulf Stream flows eastward, in the direction of the overlying westerly winds
(winds
flowing
from
west
to
east).
Winds accelerate near-surface fluid particles by imparting momentum to the
fluid through surface stresses. At first, particles move in the direction of the
wind. As time goes on, the earth's rotation deflects the particles to the
right/left in the Northern/Southern hemispheres, respectively. The large-scale
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mass field adjusts so that there is an approximate geostrophic balance


between the pressure gradient force and the Coriolis acceleration.

b. Coriolis Effect:
The Coriolis force varies over the globe as a function of latitude, being zero
at the equator, a minimum at the S. Pole and a maximum at the N. Pole. In
the late 1940s, Henry Stommel showed that this variation of the Coriolis
force was responsible for the observed fact that western boundary currents,
such as the Gulf Stream and the Kuroshio, are much narrower and faster than
eastern boundary currents, such as the California Current and Canary
Current. Both of these western boundary currents move significant amounts
of warm waters northward and are important in transporting the excess heat
the earth receives in the tropics towards the poles. Oceanic gyres are not
symmetric due to faster currents on their western boundaries.
c. Thermo-haline (Density) effect:
Another way to get pressure differences in a fluid is through density
differences in the fluid. The density of ocean water is primarily determined
by its temperature, salinity, and the pressure of the surrounding water.
Typical variations in salinity and temperature lead to density differences that
are two to three orders-of-magnitude smaller than the wind-driven air-water
density differences. When water is sufficiently cooled, at polar latitudes, by
cold atmospheric air, it gets denser and sinks. The vertical sinking motion
causes horizontal water motion as surface waters replace the sinking water.
This is one example of what oceanographers call thermo-haline flow. The
large-scale flow pattern that results from the sinking of water in the Nordic
and Greenlans Seas and around Antarctica is called the oceanic conveyor
belt

3. Major Ocean gyres:


Subtropical gyres formed due to four main currents flowing into one another.
These are large, circular loops of moving water Bounded by Equatorial
current, Western Boundary currents, Northern or Southern Boundary currents
and Eastern Boundary currents gyres are centered around 30 degrees
latitude.

North Atlantic Columbus Gyre

South Atlantic Navigator Gyre

North Pacific Turtle Gyre

South Pacific Heyerdahl Gyre

Indian Ocean Majid Gyre

a. North Atlantic Columbus Gyre


The North Atlantic Gyre, located in
the Atlantic Ocean, is one of the five
major oceanic gyres. It is a circular
system of ocean currents that stretches
across the North Atlantic from near
the equator almost to Iceland, and from
the east coast of North America to the
west coasts of Europe and Africa.
The currents that compose the North
Atlantic Gyre include the Gulf Stream in
the west, the North Atlantic Current in the
north, the Canary Current in the east, and
the Atlantic North Equatorial Current in the south. This gyre is particularly
important for the central role it plays in the thermohaline circulation,
bringing salty water west from the Mediterranean Sea and then north to form
the North Atlantic Deep Water.
This gyre is similar to the North Pacific Gyre in the way it traps manmade marine debris in the North Atlantic Garbage Patch, similar to the Great
Pacific Garbage Patch in the North Pacific. The North Atlantic Gyre forms
the Sargasso Sea, noted for its still waters and dense seaweed
accumulations.

b. South Atlantic Navigator Gyre


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The South Atlantic Gyre is the subtropical


gyre in the South Atlantic Ocean. In the
southern portion of the gyre, northwesterly (or
southeastward-flowing) winds drive eastwardflowing currents that are difficult to distinguish
from the northern boundary of the Antarctic
Circumpolar Current. Like other oceanic gyres,
it collects vast amounts of floating debris.
South of this gyre is the Antarctic Circumpolar
Current. This current flows from West to East
around Antarctica. Another name for this
current is the West Wind Drift. This current
allows Antarctica to maintain its huge ice sheet
by keeping warm ocean waters away. At approximately 125Sv, this current is
the largest ocean current.
The Brazil Current is the western boundary current of the gyre. It flows south
along the Brazilian coast to the Rio de la Plata. The current is considerably
weaker than its North Atlantic counterpart, the Gulf Stream.

c. North Pacific Turtle Gyre


The North Pacific Gyre, located in the northern Pacific Ocean, is one of the
five major oceanic gyres. This gyre covers most of the northern Pacific
Ocean. It is the largest ecosystem on Earth, located between
the equator and 50 N latitude, and comprising 20 million square kilometers.
The gyre has a clockwise circular pattern and is formed by four
prevailing ocean currents: the North Pacific Current to the north,
the California Current to the east, the North Equatorial Current to the south,
and the Kuroshio Current to the west. It is the site of an unusually intense
collection of man-made marine debris, known as the Great Pacific Garbage
Patch.

d. South Pacific Heyerdahl Gyre


The Southern Pacific Gyre is part of the
Earths system of rotating ocean currents,
bounded by equator to the north, Australia to
the
west,
the Antarctic
Circumpolar
Current to the south, and South America to
the east. The center of the South Pacific Gyre
is the site on Earth farthest from any
continents and productive ocean regions and
is regarded as Earths largest oceanic desert.

e. Indian Ocean Majid Gyre


The Indian Ocean Gyre, located in the Indian Ocean, is one of the five
major oceanic gyres, large systems of rotating ocean currents, which
together form the backbone of the global conveyer belt. The Indian Ocean
Gyre is composed of two major currents: the South Equatorial Current, and
the West Australian Current.

Normally
moving
counterclockwise, in the winter the Indian
Ocean gyre reverses direction due
to the seasonal winds of the South
Asian Monsoon. In the summer,
the land is warmer than the ocean,
so surface winds blow from the
ocean to the land. However, during
the winter, these temperatures
reverse, making the winds blow
from the land to the ocean.
Because most of the air pressure
gradient
is
retained
behind
the Tibetan plateau, air pressure
gradients
over
the Indian
Ocean and the gyre are small. This results in winds of moderate strength,
due to the protection from the full force winds blowing off the Mongolian high
pressure region. Because of these moderate, dry winds, the Winter Monsoon
season in the Indian Ocean region is the dry Season for most of Southern
Asia. Due to this seasonal wind cycle, the currents of the Indian Ocean, which
make up the Indian Ocean gyre, are directly affected, causing reversal.

4. References:
http://5gyres.org/see_global_research/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ocean_gyre
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Pacific_Gyre
http://oceancurrents.rsmas.miami.edu/ocean-gyres.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Atlantic_Gyre#mediaviewer/File:North_Atla
ntic_Gyre.png
http://www.seos-project.eu/modules/oceancurrents/oceancurrents-c02p04.html
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The End