Chapter 3  The Physical Setting
3.2 Dimensions of the Ocean The ocean and adjacent seas cover 70.8% of the surface of Earth, which amounts to 361,254,000 km^{2}. The areas of the named parts vary considerably (Table 3.1) , and the Pacific is the largest. Oceanic dimensions range from around 1500 km for the minimum width of the Atlantic to more than 13,000 km for the northsouth extent of the Atlantic and the width of the Pacific. Typical depths are only 34 km. So horizontal dimensions of ocean basins are 1,000 times greater than the vertical dimension. A scale model of the Pacific, the size of an 8.5 in × 11 in sheet of paper, would have dimensions similar to the paper: a width of 10,000 km scales to 10 in, and a depth of 3 km scales to 0.003 in, the typical thickness of a piece of paper.
Because the ocean is so thin, crosssectional plots of ocean basins must have a greatly exaggerated vertical scale to be useful. Typical plots have a vertical scale that is 200 times the horizontal scale (Figure 3.4). This exaggeration distorts our view of the ocean. The edges of the ocean basins, the continental slopes, are not steep cliffs as shown in the figure at 41°W and 12°E. Rather, they are gentle slopes dropping down 1 meter for every 20 meters in the horizontal.
The small ratio of depth to width of ocean basins is very important for understanding ocean currents. Vertical velocities must be much smaller than horizontal velocities. Even over distances of a few hundred kilometers, the vertical velocity must be less than 1% of the horizontal velocity. We will use this information later to simplify the equations of motion. The relatively small vertical velocities have great influence on turbulence. Three dimensional turbulence is fundamentally different than twodimensional turbulence. In twodimensions, vortex lines must always be vertical, and there can be little vortex stretching. In three dimensions, vortex stretching plays a fundamental role in turbulence.


Department of Oceanography, Texas A&M University Robert H. Stewart, stewart@ocean.tamu.edu All contents copyright © 2005 Robert H. Stewart, All rights reserved Updated on August 31, 2007 