Philander, S. George. Program in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey.
- South Equatorial Current
- North Equatorial Countercurrent
- Equatorial Undercurrent
- Time dependence of the currents
- Links to Primary Literature
- Additional Readings
Ocean currents near the Equator. The westward trade winds that prevail over the tropical Atlantic and Pacific oceans drive complex oceanic circulations characterized by alternating bands of eastward and westward currents (Fig. 1). The intense currents are confined to the surface layers of the ocean; below a depth of approximately 100 m (330 ft) the temperature is much lower, and the speed of ocean currents is much slower. The westward surface currents tend to be divergent—they are associated with a parting of the surface waters—and therefore entrain cold water from below. The water temperature rises as the currents flow westward, so that temperatures are low in the east and high in the west, except between 3 and 10°N where eastward surface currents create a band of warm water across the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. The distinctive sea surface temperature pattern in which surface waters are warm in the west and cold in the east, except for the warm band just north of the Equator, reflects the oceanic circulation (Fig. 2). A dramatic change in this pattern every few years during El Niño episodes, when the temperature of the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean rises, is associated with an intensification of the eastward currents and a weakening (sometimes reversal) of the westward currents. See also: El Niño
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