Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech (view JPL Image Use Policy)
Published: February 21, 2018

This video shows a snapshot of ocean turbulence in the North Atlantic Ocean from January through March of 2012. The animation was created with a groundbreaking super-high-resolution global ocean simulation (approximately 1.2 miles, or 2 kilometers, horizontal resolution) developed at JPL. The colors represent the magnitude of surface relative vorticity, a measure of the spin of fluid parcels. The animation emphasizes fast-rotating, small-scale turbulence (6.2 to 31-mile, or 10 to 50 kilometer, range), during the winter. High levels of relative vorticity caused by small-scale turbulence are believed to strongly transport heat and carbon vertically in the ocean.

These data appear in a study (Su et al. 2018), entitled Ocean submesoscales as a key component of the global heat budget, published recently in Nature Communications. The study suggests that upper-ocean small-scale turbulence transports heat upward in the ocean at a level five times larger than larger-scale heat transport by ocean eddies, significantly affecting the exchange of heat between the ocean interior and atmosphere. Such interactions have a crucial impact on the Earth's climate.