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Annual mean SST

Lesson 6: Ocean Eddies

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LESSON 6 Eddies

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Sea surface height anomalies

Ocean eddies play an important role in modifying the structure and current systems of the oceans. They occur on many scales, throughout all the oceans, and can be hundreds of kilometres across.

They are slow moving compared to their atmospheric equivalents, but they may last as long as months, and perhaps years. They may also have a profound impact on our climate by transporting heat.

They can interact with current systems, and aid the mixing of water masses.

Eddies also play an important role in the transport and distribution of nutrients and organisms throughout the oceans. They can keep a core of water trapped and transport it over long distances. They can also be responsible for the vertical movement of water and upwelling of nutrients needed for phytoplankton growth.

It is important that we find out just how much of an impact that eddies have on our climate, and the life in our oceans. Until recently, the limitations of studying ocean circulation with ships and buoys made estimating these impacts difficult. Now, observation by satellite provides us with a powerful method of studying ocean eddies.

In this lesson we will use different types of satellite data to study the Somali Current System in the Indian Ocean - a place where large ocean eddies interact powerfully with ocean circulation and the Monsoon winds.

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