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Seagliders assess the deep ocean's pulse

NSF Award:

Deep ocean mixing and circulation in subpolar seas  (University of Washington)

Iceland-Scotland Ridge Exchange Flow Seaglider Surveys  (University of Washington)

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To get a better view of the world's oceans, scientists at the University of Washington have developed remotely controlled, autonomous vehicles called Seagliders that can travel deep under the ocean surface. The vehicles permit continuous, high-resolution observations of key elements of the deep ocean's circulation patterns.

An essential event in global ocean circulation is the cascade of cold, dense waters of Arctic origin across the deep ocean ridge system that extends from Greenland to Norway. By sensing the vertical movement of water and recording temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen and suspended particles, Seagliders can provide portraits of the "waterfalls" that form key components of the ocean's global overturning circulation, often referred to as the global conveyor belt.

The deep ocean's global circulation properties change only gradually over thousands of kilometers once they are established by these mixing events. For example, in the ocean off the coast of Argentina, the deep waters are recognizably the same as at their origin near Iceland and Greenland.

The researchers worked with colleagues in Norway and the Faroe Islands to conduct a three-year Seaglider expedition. Observational results were paired with laboratory experiments to examine the interaction of concentrated deep ocean circulations with the polar front and western boundary currents. 

Images (1 of )

  • a seaglider allows researchers to observe circulation patterns in the deep ocean
  • graph shows mixing intensity of cold and warm atlantic waters
Seagliders observe circulation in the deep ocean.
Troy Swanson, University of Washington
Ocean observations between Iceland and Norway.
Peter Rhines, Nicholas Beaird, Charles Eriksen, University of Washington

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