Research ArticleOCEANOGRAPHY

Deep-reaching acceleration of global mean ocean circulation over the past two decades

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Science Advances  05 Feb 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 6, eaax7727
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aax7727


Ocean circulation redistributes Earth’s energy and water masses and influences global climate. Under historical greenhouse warming, regional ocean currents show diverse tendencies, but whether there is an emerging trend of the global mean ocean circulation system is not yet clear. Here, we show a statistically significant increasing trend in the globally integrated oceanic kinetic energy since the early 1990s, indicating a substantial acceleration of global mean ocean circulation. The increasing trend in kinetic energy is particularly prominent in the global tropical oceans, reaching depths of thousands of meters. The deep-reaching acceleration of the ocean circulation is mainly induced by a planetary intensification of surface winds since the early 1990s. Although possibly influenced by wind changes associated with the onset of a negative Pacific decadal oscillation since the late 1990s, the recent acceleration is far larger than that associated with natural variability, suggesting that it is principally part of a long-term trend.

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