Wind Speeds and North Atlantic Ocean Circulation

This week the University of Toronto Mississauga website posted an article about new research that has focused on the effects of wind movement on North Atlantic ocean water. The study was headed by Kent Moore, professor at the university, and aims to increase our understanding of the relationship between these natural systems.

Greenland "tip jets" and wind speeds.
Greenland “tip jets” and wind speeds. (Source:

The research conducted has made use of a new diagnostic that analyses wind patterns over long periods of time, in particular those of the Greenland and Iceland regions. The results confirm that consistent, strong winds (tip jets) there can have an influence on seawater circulation, especially in coastal areas:

Moore began with an examination of Cape Farewell, on the southernmost tip of Greenland. The windiest oceanic site in the world, Cape Farewell experiences gale force winds called “tip jets” for one-sixth of the time during the winter.

With the new diagnostic, a statistical tool, Moore separated out gale force wind observations by wind direction and re-analyzed wind patterns from 1979 to 2012. It confirmed previous hypotheses that tip jets are caused by the sudden and steep elevation of Greenland’s coast. Winds hitting the coast are forced to go around the land instead of over, causing wind acceleration (known as the Bernoulli effect, which also results in lift on an airplane wing).

Topographic map of Greenland (Source: Wikipedia)

This marine environment is one in which deep ocean convection occurs and can be quite significant. The warm waters of the Gulf Stream move north towards Greenland where cold tip jet winds (deflected around high elevations on the coast) reduce water temperatures resulting in dense, and therefore heavier, water to sink to greater depths. The winds have a quantifiable effect on water temperatures in the North Atlantic, but also contribute to the return flow of the current.

(Sources: University of Toronto MississaugaWoods Hole Oceanographic Institution)


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