TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- More than a mile beneath the Atlantics surface, roughly halfway between New York and Portugal, seawater rushing through the narrow gullies of an underwater mountain range much as winds gust between a citys tall buildings is generating one of the most turbulent areas ever observed in the deep ocean.
In fact, the turbulence packs an energy wallop equal to about five million watts -- comparable to output from a small nuclear reactor, according to a landmark study led by Florida State University researcher Louis St. Laurent and described in the August 9 edition of the journal Nature.
The study -- an international collaboration of scientists from the United States and France -- documents for the first time the turbulent conditions in an undersea mountain range known as the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. It provides never-before-seen evidence that deep water turbulence swirling in the small passageways of such mountains is generating much of the mixing of warm and cold waters in the Atlantic Ocean.
Better understanding of the mechanisms of mixing is crucial, says St. Laurent, an assistant professor of physical oceanography at FSU and the studys co-principal investigator, because mixing produces the overall balance of water temperatures that helps control the strength of the Gulf Stream -- the strong, warm ocean current that starts in the Gulf of Mexico, flows along the U.S. east coast to Canada and on to Europe, and plays a crucial climate role.
Oceanographers are working hard to understand how processes in the ocean help to keep the Earths climate stable, St. Laurent said. We are aware that the climate is warming, but we dont yet fully understand how the changes will affect society. Our work will result in better models for predicting how the ocean will affect the climate in the future and a better understanding of sea-level rise, weather patterns such as El Nino, and the impact of these events on fisheries.