6.3 Geographical Distribution of Surface Temperature and Salinity
The distribution of temperature at the sea surface tends to be zonal, that is it tends to be independent of longitude (Figure 6.2). Warmest water is near the equator, coldest water is near the poles. The deviations from zonal are small. Equatorward of 40°, cooler waters tend to be on the eastern side of the basin. North of this latitude, cooler waters tend to be on the western side.
The anomalies of sea-surface temperature, the deviation from a long term average, are small, less than 1.5°C except in the equatorial Pacific where the deviations can be 3°C (Figure 6.3: top).
The annual range of surface temperature is highest at mid-latitudes, especially on the western side of the ocean (Figure 6.3: bottom). In the west, cold air blows off the continents in winter and cools the ocean. The cooling dominates the heat budget. In the tropics the temperature range is mostly less than 2°C.
The distribution of sea-surface salinity also tends to be zonal. The saltiest waters are at mid-latitudes where evaporation is high. Less salty waters are near the equator where rain freshens the surface water, and at high latitudes where melted sea ice freshens the surface waters (Figure 6.4). The zonal (east-west) average of salinity shows a close correlation between salinity and evaporation minus precipitation plus river input (Figure 6.5).
Because many large rivers drain into the Atlantic and the Arctic Sea, why is the Atlantic saltier than the Pacific? Broecker (1997) showed that 0.32 Sv of the water evaporated from the Atlantic does not fall as rain on land. Instead, it is carried by winds into the Pacific (Figure 6.6). Broecker points out that the quantity is small, equivalent to a little more than the flow in the Amazon River, but "were this flux not compensated by an exchange of more salty Atlantic waters for less salty Pacific waters, the salinity of the entire Atlantic would rise about 1 gram per liter per millennium."
Mean Temperature and Salinity of the Ocean The mean temperature of the ocean's waters is: t = 3.5°C; and the mean salinity is S = 34.7. The distribution about the mean is small: 50% of the water is in the range:
|Department of Oceanography, Texas A&M University
Robert H. Stewart, email@example.com
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Updated on March 23, 2009