National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2020

Deep-reaching kinetic energy of global mean ocean circulation has increased over the past two decades

Hu, S., J. Sprintall, C. Guan, M.J. McPhaden, F. Wang, D. Hu, and W. Cai

Science Adv., 6(6), eaax7727, doi: 10.1126/sciadv.aax7727, View online (2020)

Ocean circulation redistributes Earth’s energy and water masses and influences global climate. Under historical greenhouse warming, regional ocean currents show diverse tendencies, but whether there is an emerging trend of the global mean ocean circulation system is not yet clear. Here, we show a statistically significant increasing trend in the globally integrated oceanic kinetic energy since the early 1990s, indicating a substantial acceleration of global mean ocean circulation. The increasing trend in kinetic energy is particularly prominent in the global tropical oceans, reaching depths of thousands of meters. The deep-reaching acceleration of the ocean circulation is mainly induced by a planetary intensification of surface winds since the early 1990s. Although possibly influenced by wind changes associated with the onset of a negative Pacific decadal oscillation since the late 1990s, the recent acceleration is far larger than that associated with natural variability, suggesting that it is principally part of a long-term trend.

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