PerspectiveOceans

A salty start to modern ocean circulation

Science  13 Jun 2014:
Vol. 344, Issue 6189, pp. 1228-1229
DOI: 10.1126/science.1255553

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Summary

In a small area of the high North Atlantic, dense water sinks to the deep ocean and begins a ∼2000-year journey through the Atlantic, Southern, Indian, and Pacific oceans until it emerges again off the west coasts of North and South America (1). Yet 6 million years ago, ocean circulation patterns were quite different, with gateways through the Central American Seaway (2) and the Indonesian Seaway (3) allowing deep ocean flow at mid-latitudes. On page 1244 of this issue, Hernández-Molina et al. (4) document the history and impact of ocean flow out of the Mediterranean Sea at another such gateway: the Strait of Gibraltar. The results highlight the importance of this gateway in modulating global ocean circulation and climate patterns.