Deep Waters Spiral Around Antarctica


Research reveals the pathways and timescales of deep, overturning waters around Antarctica. (MIT News)

What are those deep, overturning waters called?

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers Toolkit.

Discussion Ideas



  • In the newest study, researchers were able to model and track millions of particles as they circled around Antarctica. What did modeling the ACC help them learn?
    • The current corkscrews. “[D]eep, relatively-warm water from the three ocean basins enters the Southern Ocean and spirals southeastwards and upwards around Antarctica before reaching the ocean’s mixed layer, where it interacts with the atmosphere.”
    • Eddies contribute to the patterns of the current. The topography of five locations (the Southwest Indian Ridge, the Kerguelen Plateau, the Macquarie Ridge, the Pacific-Antarctic Ridge, and the Drake Passage) create regions with turbulence and high kinetic energy, which help to overturn and upwell the majority of the water.
    • The Atlantic supplies half the water to the ACC. Researchers were able to map the contributions of each ocean basin to the current. The Atlantic basin contributed about half the water that reached the mixed layer. The Pacific and Indian ocean basins each contributed about a quarter.
    • The current is fast. The ACC exhibited much, much faster vertical circulation than previously thought. Cold, nutrient-rich waters reached the mixed level after about 29-81 years. Previous, non-eddying models had estimated the time to be between 150-250 years.



MIT News: Deep waters spiral upward around Antarctica

Nat Geo: What is the ocean conveyor belt?

Nat Geo: What is a current?

Nat Geo: What is an ocean gyre?

Nat Geo: Ocean Currents and Climate

Nat Geo: The Benefits of Studying Ocean Currents

(extra credit!) Nature Communications: Spiraling pathways of global deep waters to the surface of the Southern Ocean

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