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Ocean Circulation and Climate



Major ocean currents such as the Gulf Stream (seen in this image of sea surface temperature) are highly energetic and turbulent, forming vortices, meanders, and eddies. Eddies are ubiquitous: they carry nearly 99% of the kinetic energy of the ocean circulation. While ships need not fear being drawn down by these whirlpools (their currents rarely exceed a few knots), carbon entering the ocean at the surface is efficiently flushed into the ocean abyss by eddy-driven circulations where it can be stored for decades to centuries. This oceanic sequestration of carbon plays an important role in regulating climate by reducing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. Understanding the governing physics of ocean eddies is thus critical for the accurate prediction of the future state of the Earth’s climate. Using theory, computer modeling, laboratory demonstrations, and field observations I study the fundamental dynamics of ocean eddies to model their behavior and net effect on the ocean’s circulation and biogeochemistry and ultimately the Earth system as a whole.