Peter Niiler discovers and maps ocean currents

Peter Niiler: We have never had an accurate map of ocean currents, ever, until now.

That’s Peter Niiler of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Niiler measures ocean currents. That’s how he and colleagues discovered hundreds of weak, slow-moving currents – crossing the ocean like stripes. Niiler said this new insight can reveal more about the link between ocean and climate.

Peter Niiler: For example, half the heat that’s transported from the equator toward the pole is caused by the atmosphere, and half of it is caused by the ocean. And the way the ocean moves that heat is through ocean currents. So people should care that our system of ocean currents does not significantly change as climate change occurs. Because if it does, we will have a significantly different climate pattern.

He said the recently discovered currents will let scientists create more precise models of how ocean waters absorb carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas.

Peter Niiler: Now we know where most of the carbon uptake should be taking place, because that’s where water is coming from the deep ocean, and as the water comes up it’s going to absorb its share of carbon dioxide before it sinks again or spreads somewhere else.

Niiler said that being able to map the ocean’s many currents helps scientists create the best models for studying ocean behavior.

He added his strong belief that it is important for the United States to have a science policy in support of accurate observations of our world – from satellites, from oceans currents, and from other parameters.

Peter Niiler: It is important to support actual instrumental well-calibrated measurements of our changing world.

Our thanks today to NOAA – the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Our thanks to:

Peter Niiler

Professor of Oceanography
Scripps Institution of Oceanography

October 25, 2008

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