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Ocean Surface Topography from Space
Sea Surface Height Variability
July 01, 1994

Sea Surface Variability

Eddies are swirls of water currents that are spun off from a main current or that are forced by the wind. Ocean
eddies may persist from weeks to months, have diameters of
tens to hundreds of kilometers and extend to great depths in
the oceans. These currents play an important role in ocean
circulation by transporting an enormous amount of heat -- as
well as salt, nutrients and other substances -- ihn the
oceans. For example, eddies carry warm water from the
equator to the poles. Eddies may be thought of as oceanic
"weather" and thus play a critical role in Earth's climate
and biogeochemical systems.

The greatest changes in sea-surface height, over 25 centimeters (shown as white), correspond to the most rapidly
rotating eddies. These occur mainly in regions where strong
ocean currents are located -- including the Gulf Stream off
the east coast of the United States, the Kuroshio off the
coast of Japan, the Loop Current in the Gulf of Mexico, the
East Australian Current, the Agulhas Current south of South
Africa, the convergence of the Brazil Current and the
Falkland Current off the central east coast of South America
and the Mozambique Current between Madagascar and Africa. A
chain of highs -- shown in red, yellow, and green -- can be
seen north of Antarctica, along the path of the Antarctic
Circumpolar Current.


JPL Identification #: P-44075

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

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