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February 6, 2012
A new "ocean highway" of whose existence no one knew was recently discovered by a team of Japanese and Australian scientists.
It has a flow forty times higher than the Amazon River and flows under the Indian Ocean, more than three thousand meters deep. The finding, to help better understand the Earth's climate, has just been published in Nature Geoscience.
"The current transports dense water rich in oxygen and sinking near Antarctica at great depths and head towards the far north," said Steve Rintoul, one of the authors. "In fact, without this contribution Antarctic water, the deeper layers of the ocean would have very little oxygen."
The role and influence of ocean currents on climate are well known. In fact, are responsible for storing and transporting a large amount of heat and carbon dioxide, which thus is not released to the atmosphere and slows the process of global warming.
"The current deep undersea Kerguelen Plateau is part of a global system of ocean currents that are critical when it comes to knowing how much heat the ocean can store carbon," adds the researcher.
Other expeditions were detected before evidence of this complex system of streams, but none of them had been able to determine the amount of water they carried.
The Australian-Japanese team used for their experiments different current meters anchored to the seafloor, at depths exceeding 4,500 meters.
Over a period of two years, the detectors hooked to the bottom floated to a depth of about three thousand feet, systematically measuring the flow velocity, temperature and salinity.
"The continuous measurements allowed us for the first time, determine how much water was transported northward this deep current," says Rintoul. It turns out that for more than twelve million cubic meters of water from segurndo Antarctica less than zero degrees and without being frozen, as it is mixed with salts and minerals.
"It was a real surprise to see how strong this trend," says the researcher. "With an average speed during two years of 20 cm per second, the current is strongest ever measured at depths of three miles beneath the sea surface."
To Rintoul, "Having a map of these systems of deep currents is an important step toward understanding the global network of currents that influence climate, both present and future. And our results show that the currents of Kerguelen Plateau make a large contribution to this global ocean circulation. "