Abstract

Streamlines of oceanic mass transport are derived from solutions to a vertically integrated vorticity equation which relates planetary vorticity, lateral stress curl, and the curl of the stress exerted by the winds on the sea surface. These solutions account for many of the gross features of the general ocean circulation, and some of its details, on the basis of the observed mean annual winds.

The solution for zonal winds (section 3) gives the main gyres of the ocean circulation. The northern and southern boundaries of these gyres are the west wind drift, the equatorial currents, and equatorial counter-current. They are determined by the westerly winds, the trades, and the doldrums, respectively. For each gyre the solution gives the following observed features (from west to east): a concentrated current (e.g., the Gulf Stream), a countercurrent, boundary vortices (the Sargasso Sea), and a steady compensating drift. Using mean Atlantic zonal winds, the solution yields a transport for the Gulf Stream of 36 million metric tons per second, compared to 74 million as derived from oceanographic observations. The discrepancy can probably be ascribed, at least in part, to an underestimate of the wind stress at low wind speeds (Beaufort 4 and less) as derived from the relationship now generally accepted.

The solution for meridional winds (section 5) accounts for the main features of the current system off California. For a circular wind system (section 8) the solution gives a wind-spun vortex which is displaced westward in relation to the wind system, in agreement with observations in the Northeast Pacific high-pressure area.

Based on these three solutions, a general nomenclature of ocean currents is introduced (section 9), applicable to all oceans regardless of hemisphere, and suggestive of the meteorologic features to which the currents are so closely related. In the light of this general system, the circulations of the northern and southern hemispheres, and of the North Atlantic and North Pacific are compared (section 10). Rossby's jet-stream theory of the Gulf Stream, and Maury's theory of thermohaline circulation are discussed, and it is concluded that the circulation in the upper layers of the oceans are the result chiefly of the stresses exerted by the winds.

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