Motion of the Ocean

How does the oceans move?

Causes of the Currents

Surface currents can range from 0 meters to 400 meters (1,300 feet). They have the ability to go even deeper which is very rare.

The two major ways the currents get their motion is wind and water density.

When wind is created, uneven heating of the surface, wind blows across water and causes friction which sets the water in motion and creates currents.


Gyres are large persistent currents that eventually run into land. There are five major currents of the ocean. These locations are North and South Atlantic, North and South Pacific, and Indian oceans.

Ekman Transport

Ekman transport is the result of a balance between Coriolis and turbulent drag forces.

Upwelling and Downwelling

Upwelling is a vertical current that brings deep water to the surface.

Downwelling is when higher density water is pushed down to the bottom.

Heat Transport and Climate

Warmer water from the tropical oceans is transported in the ocean by currents to colder areas to warm up that area and control temperatures. This effects the climates because the warmer water warms up other areas and causes climates to be controlled and stay warmer.

El Niño

El Niño is an irregularly occurring and complex series of climatic changes affecting the equatorial Pacific region and beyond every few years, characterized by the appearance of unusually warm, nutrient-poor water off northern Peru and Ecuador, typically in late December.

Deep Circulation and Water Masses

Deep Circulation is water motion caused by mixing water masses of different densities.

Water Masses is a large area or body of water.

Ocean Conveyor Belt

The interconnected flow of currents that redistribute heat. This is also known, in other words, earths giant "air conditioner"

How Do We Study Currents?

Lagrangian Method

This is also called the float method. This is used by setting a object fitted with a tracking device and mapping the current and where that current flows.

Eulerian Method

This is also called the flow method. This is used by staying in one place and measuring the velocity of the water as it passes.

Satellite Method

This method is used by controlling a satellite and taking pictures of the sea floor and other areas.