Sea life's importance to the climate

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:45 PM GMT on May 29, 2007

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Does the marine biosphere mix the ocean? A group of oceanographers led by W.K. Dewar of Florida State University argue that the swimming action of fish and other marine organisms may play a critical role in driving ocean currents. If true, large-scale over-fishing or the collapse of the marine food chain due to pollution or ocean acidification may cause significant changes in ocean currents--and Earth's climate.


Figure 1. Rainbow made From a sperm whale using his blowhole. Image taken June 17, 2006 in Kaikora, New Zealand by wunderphotographer jhfelder.

The Meridional Overturning Circulation (MOC) or Thermohaline Circulation is a well-known feature of the ocean circulation. In the Atlantic, the Gulf Stream current forms a portion of the MOC. Gulf Stream waters flow to the region near Greenland, where an input of fresh, denser water from melting ice and river run-off creates a downward flow of water that then moves southward along the ocean bottom towards the Equator. This deep water eventually returns to the surface in the mid-Atlantic to complete a cell of the MOC. Scientists have long thought that the energy needed to drive the MOC came from winds and tides--about two terrawatts of energy (Munk and Wunsch, 1998). However, Dewar et al. show that the mechanical energy added to the ocean by the swimming action of whales is about 1% of this total, and the swimming action of other marine organisms (primarily zooplankton) adds up to 50% of this total--one terrawatt of energy. While the authors admit that their calculations may have large errors, this research shows that marine life may have a heretofore unappreciated large impact on Earth's climate. Our climate is intimately connected to the sun, life on land, life in the ocean, and human activities in an incredibly complex web of interconnections. It is our challenge to understand this system, even as we change it and it changes of its own accord.

My next blog will be Thursday afternoon, when the new Dr. Bill Gray/Phil Klotzbach Atlantic hurricane season forecast will be released.

Jeff Masters

Dewar, W.K., R.J. Bingham, R.L. Iverson, D.P. Nowacek, L.C. St. Laurent, and P.H. Wiebe, 2006, "Does the marine biosphere mix the ocean?", Journal of Marine Research, 64, 541-561.

Munk, W., and C. Wunsch, 1998, "Abyssal recipes II: Energetics of tidal and wind mixing", Deep-Sea Res., 45, 1976-2009.

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1121. StoryOfTheCane
9:26 AM GMT on May 31, 2007
Wind Direction (WDIR): SE ( 130 deg true )
Wind Speed (WSPD): 21.4 kts
Wind Gust (GST): 23.3 kts
Wave Height (WVHT): 6.6 ft
Dominant Wave Period (DPD): 6 sec
Average Period (APD): 4.8 sec
Mean Wave Direction (MWD): E ( 93 deg true )
Atmospheric Pressure (PRES): 29.77 in
Pressure Tendency (PTDY): -0.07 in ( Falling )
Air Temperature (ATMP): 79.5 F
Water Temperature (WTMP): 83.7 F
Dew Point (DEWP): 75.0 F
Heat Index (HEAT): 83.8 F
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1120. StoryOfTheCane
9:24 AM GMT on May 31, 2007
until it goes north of Cuba its going to be in favorable shear, ssts and moist air so we'll see how long it stays south
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1119. StoryOfTheCane
9:23 AM GMT on May 31, 2007
pressure is still dropping but winds have decreased at the 42056 buoy in the last few hours
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1118. StoryOfTheCane
9:22 AM GMT on May 31, 2007
the south Caribbean doesn't look like its done yet either

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1116. StoryOfTheCane
9:19 AM GMT on May 31, 2007
kind of worrysome to see the Atlantic get so active this early
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1115. StoryOfTheCane
9:19 AM GMT on May 31, 2007
kind of worrysome to see the Atlantic get so active this early
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1114. kmanislander
9:18 AM GMT on May 31, 2007
gotta grab some more shut eye
only 4:20 here
will post update on local conditions in 3 hrs or so
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1113. kmanislander
9:11 AM GMT on May 31, 2007
good morning

kind of early but the rain woke me up
Very impressive blow up to our wsw
Pressure on my weather station is 1009.7 and steady.Winds calm now out of the ene@4
Could get real interesting today.
Motion looks to be to the E or ESE
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1111. stormpetrol
8:54 AM GMT on May 31, 2007
Looking more impressive by the hour, lots of rain and a bit windy here in Grand Cayman, pressure is down to 1007 mb in some areas.
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1110. StoryOfTheCane
8:48 AM GMT on May 31, 2007
be back later
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1107. southbeachdude
8:36 AM GMT on May 31, 2007
good call jflorida. The rock feature on the water vapor is cool....
Member Since: July 29, 2005 Posts: 2 Comments: 697
1106. StoryOfTheCane
8:35 AM GMT on May 31, 2007
yeah, if this thing was a couple hundred miles south we could be seeing a big one.
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1105. StoryOfTheCane
8:33 AM GMT on May 31, 2007
from that vater vapor it looks like it might just be just west of the major convection, but yeah it looks like it still is trying to find the center. I think it is very close to doing so though.
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1104. southbeachdude
8:31 AM GMT on May 31, 2007
still looks like it will be a rainmaker for at least south Florida. it could make ts status...but should remain pretty weak.
Member Since: July 29, 2005 Posts: 2 Comments: 697
1102. StoryOfTheCane
8:29 AM GMT on May 31, 2007
yeah I think ENE is right from what I can tell, this might only hit Cuba and the islands. Its hard to tell though, this pretty much popped out of nowhere.

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1101. StoryOfTheCane
8:28 AM GMT on May 31, 2007
I think it has a chance to get to TS status before it hits land
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1100. southbeachdude
8:28 AM GMT on May 31, 2007
which direction do you think it is moving? looks ene but that might be deceptive
Member Since: July 29, 2005 Posts: 2 Comments: 697
1099. StoryOfTheCane
8:27 AM GMT on May 31, 2007
lol talk about rapid intensification, thats a pretty cool graph
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1098. StoryOfTheCane
8:27 AM GMT on May 31, 2007
lol welcome to the life of insomniacs
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1096. StoryOfTheCane
8:25 AM GMT on May 31, 2007
yeah I think there is some CC, it looks like from the long loop that it just got over the water and started spinning
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1095. southbeachdude
8:23 AM GMT on May 31, 2007
I can not believe I am still up.....this is what 4:30am feels like...lol
Member Since: July 29, 2005 Posts: 2 Comments: 697
1094. southbeachdude
8:22 AM GMT on May 31, 2007
yeah the pressure is falling.....it is starting to strengthen.....wonder if there is any closed circulation?
Member Since: July 29, 2005 Posts: 2 Comments: 697
1093. StoryOfTheCane
8:20 AM GMT on May 31, 2007
2kt increase from the last buoy update in wind speed & gust, a .02 decrease in pressure
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1092. StoryOfTheCane
8:19 AM GMT on May 31, 2007
pressure is dropping pretty significantly, but yeah if it goes north its done
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1091. southbeachdude
8:15 AM GMT on May 31, 2007
I still think the sheer will be too high if this blob tries to go to far north......the cmc still thinks that is what the path will be.
Member Since: July 29, 2005 Posts: 2 Comments: 697
1090. StoryOfTheCane
8:18 AM GMT on May 31, 2007
Buoy as of 750 GMT

Wind Direction (WDIR): ESE ( 120 deg true )
Wind Speed (WSPD): 23.3 kts
Wind Gust (GST): 29.1 kts
Wave Height (WVHT): 6.2 ft
Dominant Wave Period (DPD): 6 sec
Average Period (APD): 4.7 sec
Mean Wave Direction (MWD): E ( 91 deg true )
Atmospheric Pressure (PRES): 29.78 in
Pressure Tendency (PTDY): -0.07 in ( Falling )
Air Temperature (ATMP): 79.9 F
Water Temperature (WTMP): 83.7 F
Dew Point (DEWP): 74.8 F
Heat Index (HEAT): 84.6 F
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1089. StoryOfTheCane
8:16 AM GMT on May 31, 2007
yeah it didnt update to 7:45 UTC so somethings up. there is a lot of circulation.
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1087. StoryOfTheCane
8:13 AM GMT on May 31, 2007
if there is more green when this thing updates in 2 minutes id be willing to bet its a TD
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1086. StoryOfTheCane
8:10 AM GMT on May 31, 2007
quite possibly already at TD strength
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1085. StoryOfTheCane
8:08 AM GMT on May 31, 2007
the Caribbean invest is putting Barbara to shame as far as convection intensity

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1084. southbeachdude
8:06 AM GMT on May 31, 2007
hey guys...just woke up to take a night time peak and WOW. The sheer seems pretty high still to the north, but this is looking impressive tonight. I wonder what the latest model runs look like.....
Member Since: July 29, 2005 Posts: 2 Comments: 697
1083. StoryOfTheCane
8:06 AM GMT on May 31, 2007
as long as it stays in the Caribbean it has a shot
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1082. StoryOfTheCane
8:04 AM GMT on May 31, 2007
you think it will stay south long enough to develop into a storm? it appears to be heading toward Cuba right now, maybe even going south of Florida.
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1081. StoryOfTheCane
8:03 AM GMT on May 31, 2007
thing just blew up in the past 2.5-3 hours, storm watchin at night is way better
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1079. StoryOfTheCane
8:01 AM GMT on May 31, 2007
when is the next update?
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1077. StoryOfTheCane
7:58 AM GMT on May 31, 2007
Wind Direction (WDIR): ESE ( 110 deg true )
Wind Speed (WSPD): 21.4 kts
Wind Gust (GST): 27.2 kts
Wave Height (WVHT): 6.6 ft
Dominant Wave Period (DPD): 6 sec
Average Period (APD): 5.0 sec
Mean Wave Direction (MWD): E ( 100 deg true )
Atmospheric Pressure (PRES): 29.80 in
Pressure Tendency (PTDY): -0.05 in ( Falling )
Air Temperature (ATMP): 80.1 F
Water Temperature (WTMP): 83.7 F
Dew Point (DEWP): 75.9 F
Heat Index (HEAT): 85.5 F
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1076. StoryOfTheCane
7:53 AM GMT on May 31, 2007
here comes some Florida rain for sure. Maybe even a storm if it stays out of the Gulf and off of land long enough, more than likely won't be though
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1075. StoryOfTheCane
7:53 AM GMT on May 31, 2007
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1074. bluehaze27
7:49 AM GMT on May 31, 2007
Just checked the radar and it looks like Key West might get some rain early this morning so maybe I'll just head down to Marathon.
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1073. bluehaze27
7:45 AM GMT on May 31, 2007
Just for the hell of it. I live In Homestead and I figure there isn't much traffic on the road right now, so maybe I can get down to Key West by 6:30am just in time for sunrise.
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1072. 0741
7:38 AM GMT on May 31, 2007
why you going to keys bluehaze27?
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1071. bluehaze27
7:33 AM GMT on May 31, 2007
Wow, people!!! Hey Ya'll. I think I'm gonna hop on my new klr650 and head down to the Keys for sunrise. I'll probably have to dodge a shower or two but the ride should be cool (First time down there on the bike many times by car).
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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.