Brine rejection and overturning, but not the way you think! Guest post by Robert Dellinger

It’s #KitchenOceanography season! For example in Prof. Tessa M Hill‘s class at UC Davis. Last week, her student Robert Dellinger posted a video of an overturning circulation on Twitter that got me super excited (not only because as of now, April 15th, it has 70 retweets and 309 likes. That’s orders of magnitude more successful than any kitchen oceanography stuff I have ever posted! Congratulations!).

Robert is using red, warm water on one side and melt water of blue ice cubes on the other side to provide heating and cooling to his tank to create the overturning. Why did I get so excited? Because of this: the head of the meltwater plume was very clearly not blue (see above)! Rob kindly agreed to write a guest post about these observations:

“I first and foremost want to start off by thanking Dr. Mirjam Glessmer for doing a phenomenal job at SciCom through Kitchen Oceanography. I was able to replicate her physical oceanography experiment regarding oceanic overturning circulation for my oceanography class with Dr. Tessa Hill.

As mentioned in her previous post, oceanographic currents are often simplified to give an easier understanding of how oceanic overturning circulation operates. The top 10% of our oceans are controlled by wind-driven currents and tidal fluctuations while the bottom 90% of our ocean currents are controlled by density-dependent movements.Originally this process was defined as thermal circulation but was later expanded to thermohaline circulation. Thermohaline circulation is dependent upon both temperature (thermal) and salinity (haline.) These density-dependent reactions occur when either freshwater fluxes meet saltwater and from thermal differences in water masses. Due to differential heating in our planet, colder formations of dense water masses are formed at the poles, which in turn causes the convective mixing and sinking of water masses driving oceanic circulation.

(Video by Robert Dellinger; thanks for letting me use it!)

In this experiment, we primarily focus on the thermally dependent reactions between two water masses. As seen in the video, the warmer water mass is dyed red, while the cold water mass formed by ice melting, is blue. As expected the more dense water mass (cold) is pushed under the warmer mass once they meet. One feature I would like to point out is the clear plume head feature in my experiment (see picture on top of this post). My theory is that part of the ice cube that was not dyed melted first and was pushed under the warm water mass. This feature is most likely due to the ice cube experiencing unequal cooling, which in turn led to an uneven dye distribution as seen in the previous post “Sea ice formation, brine release, or: What ice cubes can tell you about your freezer.

As seen in the experiment, thermohaline circulation is thermally driven therefore, the role of salinity causes the system to be non-linear. Salinity serves as a positive feedback mechanism by increasing the salinity of deeper water and strengthens the circulation. Furthermore, current studies are focusing on how atmospheric warming is altering thermohaline circulation attributed by increases in ocean heat absorption and freshwater fluxes (primarily from melting ice caps.)”

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