Scientists discover giant equatorial water mass in mid-Atlantic

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For the uninitiated, there is not much to water.

Sure, the world’s oceans are full of monsters, wonders, and mysteries, but otherwise they’re just vast, singular expanses of liquid. Good?


Far from being uniform everywhere, ocean water is a mosaic of interconnected layers and masses that mix and separate thanks to currents, eddies, and changes in temperature or salinity.

In fact, beneath the surface of our great seas, there are waterfalls, rivers and even gigantic spots, stretching for thousands of kilometers, that somehow manage to evade detection.

Now, scientists have discovered one of these enormous masses in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean; It extends from the tip of Brazil to the Gulf of Guinea.

Until the discovery of this body of water, called Atlantic Equatorial Water, experts had seen mixed waters along the equator in the Pacific and Indian oceans, but never in the Atlantic.

“It seemed controversial that the equatorial water mass is present in the Pacific and Indian Oceans but is not in the Atlantic Ocean because the equatorial circulation and mixing in the three oceans have common characteristics,” said Viktor Zhurbas, a physicist and oceanologist at the Shirshov Institute. of Oceanology in Moscow, he said. Living science.

“The new identified water mass has allowed us to complete (or at least describe more precisely) the phenomenological pattern of the basic water masses of the World Ocean.”

Ocean water is a mosaic of interconnected layers and masses that mix and divide. iStock

As its name suggests, equatorial Atlantic water is formed by the mixing of water masses separated by currents along the equator.

To distinguish these masses from the water around them, oceanographers analyze the relationship between temperature and salinity throughout the ocean, which determines the density of seawater.

In 1942, this temperature-salinity mapping led to the discovery of equatorial waters in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, such as Living science grades.

Because they are created by the mixing of northern and southern waters, the equatorial waters of India and the Pacific share similar temperatures and salinities that curve along lines of constant density, making them easy to distinguish from the surrounding water.

And yet, for years no such relationship could be detected in the Atlantic.

However, thanks to data collected by the Argo program (an international collection of self-submersible robotic floats that have been deployed in Earth’s oceans), researchers detected an unnoticed temperature-salinity curve located parallel to the waters of the North Atlantic. and the Central South Atlantic.

This was that elusive Atlantic Equatorial Water.

“It was easy to confuse equatorial Atlantic water with central South Atlantic water, and to distinguish them it was necessary to have a fairly dense network of vertical temperature and salinity profiles covering the entire Atlantic Ocean,” Zhurbas explained in his email. to Living science.

The discovery is important because it gives experts a better understanding of how the oceans mix, vital for transporting heat, oxygen and nutrients around the world.

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