Oceanic currents

  • Dec 2020

Oceanic currents describe the movement of water from one location to another. Currents are generally measured in meters per second or in knots (1 knot = 1.85 kilometers per hour or 1.15 miles per hour).

Oceanic currents are driven by three main factors:

The rise and fall of the tides

Tides create a current in the oceans, which are strongest near the shore, and in bays and estuaries along the coast. These are called "tidal currents." Tidal currents change in a very regular pattern and can be predicted for future dates. In some locations, strong tidal currents can travel at speeds of eight knots or more.


Winds drive currents that are at or near the ocean's surface. Near coastal areas winds tend to drive currents on a localized scale and can result in phenomena like coastal upwelling. On a more global scale, in the open ocean, winds drive currents that circulate water for thousands of miles throughout the ocean basins.

Thermohaline circulation

This is a process driven by density differences in water due to temperature (thermo) and salinity (haline) variations in different parts of the ocean. Currents driven by thermohaline circulation occur at both deep and shallow ocean levels and move much slower than tidal or surface currents.

NASA's Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) mission. Launched in 2002, GRACE provides a monthly record of tiny changes in Earth's gravitational field, caused by changes in the amount of mass below the satellites. The mass of Earth's land surfaces doesn't change much over the course of a month; but the mass of water on or near Earth's surface does, for example, as ice sheets melt and water is pumped from underground aquifers. GRACE has proven invaluable in tracking these changes.

By studying this we open up the possibilities to understand more about planets and moon who has water beneath the surface (Europa) and possibilities of life their …