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Equatorial currents

Ocean currents near the Equator. The westward trade winds that prevail over the tropical Atlantic and Pacific oceans drive complex oceanic circulations characterized by alternating bands of eastward and westward currents. The intense currents are confined to the surface layers of the ocean; below a depth of approximately 100 m (330 ft) the temperature is much lower, and the speed of ocean currents is much slower. The westward surface currents tend to be divergent—they are associated with a parting of the surface waters—and therefore entrain cold water from below. The water temperature rises as the currents flow westward, so that temperatures are low in the east and high in the west, except between 3 and 10°N where eastward surface currents create a band of warm water across the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. The distinctive sea surface temperature pattern in which surface waters are warm in the west and cold in the east, except for the warm band just north of the Equator, reflects the oceanic circulation. A dramatic change in this pattern every few years during El Niño episodes, when the temperature of the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean rises, is associated with an intensification of the eastward currents and a weakening (sometimes reversal) of the westward currents.

The South Equatorial Current flows westward in the upper ocean, has its northern boundary at approximately 3°N, and attains speeds in excess of 1 m/s (3.3 ft/s) near the Equator. It is directly driven by the westward trade winds and has its origins in the cold, northwestward-flowing Peruvian coastal current. Because the Coriolis force deflects water parcels to their right in the Northern Hemisphere and to their left in the Southern Hemisphere, this current is divergent at the Equator. As a consequence, cold water from below wells up along the Equator. Upwelling

The North Equatorial Countercurrent flows eastward immediately to the north of the South Equatorial Current. The boundary between these two currents is a sharp thermal front that is clearly evident in satellite photographs. The front can literally be a green line, hundreds of yards wide, because of the abundance of phytoplankton. This current, which is counter to the wind, is driven by the torque (curl) that the wind exerts on the ocean. To its north is a colder westward current known as the North Equatorial Current. Ocean waves Phytoplankton

The Equatorial Undercurrent, which in the Pacific Ocean was originally known as the Cromwell Current, is an intense, narrow, eastward, subsurface jet that flows precisely along the Equator across the width of the Pacific. Its core, where speeds can be in excess of 1.5 m/s (5 ft/s), is at an approximate depth of 100 m (330 ft); its width is approximately 200 km (120 mi). A similar current exists in the Atlantic Ocean. In the Indian Ocean it is often present along the Equator, in the western part of the basin during March and April when westward winds prevail over that region. Such winds (including the trade winds over the Pacific and Atlantic oceans) pile up warm surface waters in the west while exposing cold waters to the surface in the east. Atlantic Ocean Indian Ocean Pacific Ocean

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From McGraw-Hill Concise Encyclopedia of Environmental Science. The Content is a copyrighted work of McGraw-Hill and McGraw-Hill reserves all rights in and to the Content. The Work is © 2008 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
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