What Causes Ocean Currents?

Water moves continuously through the ocean in huge rivers called currents. Currents may flow on the surface of the ocean, where they are shallow, or they may flow far below the surface, where they are deeper.

atlantic ocean currents

Ocean currents are set in motion by the wind. The rotation of the earth moves them clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and counter clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere.

In places where deeper currents flow below surface currents, the deeper ones flow in the opposite direction of the surface ones.

There are currents which flow along the Equator in each of the major oceans. These currents carry warm water.

But when these currents reach a continent, they split, with one current going north and the other going south. As the water gets farther and farther away from the Equator, it cools. So when it turns back to the Equator, either clockwise or counter clockwise, it becomes a cold current.

To see the path a current can take, we can look at the Gulf Stream. It begins in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and passes through the Straits of Florida. It then flows in a northeasterly direction across the Atlantic Ocean towards Europe, often traveling as fast as 138 miles a day.

Once out in the ocean, the Gulf Stream breaks up into other currents: the North Atlantic Current, which turns north towards the British Isles and into the Arctic; the Canary Current, which turns south along the coast of Africa; and one part of the Gulf Stream, which turns south in the middle of the Atlantic, then west around the Sargasso Sea.

The Gulf Stream’s warm waters are responsible for keeping many northern European ports free of ice during that area’s cold winters.

Large ocean liners and tankers “ride” ocean currents to speed travel time.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

21 thoughts on “What Causes Ocean Currents?”

  1. With all this global warming, there could be no ocean currents soon. For example, the Gulf Stream current travels due to the difference in salinity that can be found in water. Because the polar ice is melting, the salinity seems to fade away and when the difference in salinity will stop to exist, well, the Gulf Stream will be no more and that will have major consequences on the climate.

  2. you seriously believe in global warming?!! COME ON! you think global warming keeps us warm? get real here! if it keeps us warm why isn’t it warm in ALL areas of the world ALL the time? ALL through the YEAR! see, what i hate about people who say, “evolution is true…the big bang theory must be true…global warming causes and doesn’t allow this and that…” is that they can’t back up WHY they believe what they believe. if the big band theory WERE TRUE……..(which it’s not). how are people born daily? if the big bang theory were true…every one would just “zap” here all at one time. my point is……….babies are born daily. so they were created. not by their mom and dad…..yes they helped…but God made it that they looked like their parents. same with the earth and all it’s features. God created the earth. darwin has nothing to do with ANYTHING! GOD! the CREATOR of man, woman, animals, this entire earth for us to enjoy. and again,….if the big bang theory were true… do you think that birds would just randomly start tweeting while this “bang” was happening? do you think ocean waves would be hitting the shore? do you think countries just randomly were placed? I MEAN THINK ABOUT IT!??! research it. i CAN back up my statement here. the Bible. the ultimate source of facts. yes, internet sites are true also, but what will you believe? the TRUTH?…..or will you believe a lie because the rest of America believes it? or because the ENTIRE world believes it? heaven and hell are real. and what you do on earth, is what count’s in eternity. will you spend eternity in heaven (paradise)…or hell (hell. horrible fire, screaming.) you might say, “well, if i go to hell my friends will be there.” if you go to hell, your friends might be there, but you will be so frightened, afraid, horrified, and in so much pain i doubt you would want to have a party and talk to your friends. research both heaven and hell. see the difference. THEN decide where you would rather go.

  3. I am the one who wrote the previous message. I need to make a bit of a correction. Volcanos do not put out that much greenhouse gases. They do however produce that much chlorine, which does affect ozone layer. Thus causing Antarctica to melt. Well that and any volcanic ash that falls on the glaciers.

  4. Hello. About global warming. Understand this. One, JUST ONE, volcanic eruption puts out 1000 times more greenhouse gases than man has since the start of the industrial era, since man has started putting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. There were 16 volcanic eruptions since the year 1900, Mt. St. Helens erupted in 1980 in America. Each eruption, putting 1000s of times the amount of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, than we have put.

    I will not argue that we not helping. There are solutions to our energy problems out there, but the power brokers ( the oil companies, electric companies…) would lose billions if allowed to surface. Cars can be designed to get 100s of miles to the gallon, but not happening. Why???

  5. the first guy, he went a bit too far and i don’t agree with some of his statements, but i also don;t agree with some of yours
    u cant say that the bible is a myth cuz where ever u go the bible is the same.
    myth is like the game of tellaphone. one person tells one thing to the next, then the next and so one. at the end, the first person usually says onething, and the last a totally different thing.
    what does ocean currents have anything to do with this, well God supposely made everything so everything is god’s
    now im not here to make ppl into God freaks like that first guy, but just to tell u this. people might say it take great faith and that we are crazy into beleiving a God, but wouldn’t it take great faith to not beleive?
    not beleiving and beleiving is like gambling, but why take the risk? if there is no God, everyone would live a life on earth, die and rot there forever for how long. but if there is a God like the first guy said,everyone would hav to go to judgement and all that fancy stuff.

    for pple who dont beleive, they either rot or be sent to some place where God keeps where there is great sadness (i dont beleive anyone is in hell though)

    for ppl who do beleive they either rot or be sent to some place that supposely sends u to great happiness


  6. I understand that you believe with all of your heart that God created all on this earth to enjoy, and that may be true. We don’t factually know because there is no identifiable record of the creation of the universe occurring, but what we do know is what we can perceive here and now with our 5 senses. How do you explain water boiling? Well, heat is applied and when the water reaches its’ boiling point, it changes forms from a solid to a liquid. There is no denying that. That is fact. You can do this experiment at home. Place a plate above a boiling pot of water. What’s on the surface of the plate? WATER!

    The point I am trying to make is that in trying to understand your environment and trying to understand where you as a human being came from isn’t the sacrificing your belief in God. Progress has been made in this effort. We understand how to build computers, skyscraper, trains, planes, automobiles, and Styrofoam cups.

    There is no denying that people have been on this earth and understandings have been found. Jesus didn’t have a Blackberry or a Laptop. He didn’t have a car or a bicycle. He pretty much walked everywhere. Progress has been made due to science. Where we came from, to me, doesn’t really matter. It’s where we, as a species and planet, are going. Religion impedes this progress and clouds judgement and slows advancements due the the fact that irrational thinkers such as yourself happen to think that the day you were born, God just went Zap.

    Bottom line is that a baby is created when sperm from a male enters the the hard candy shell of the egg in a females’ uterus. This completes the puzzle for a genetic code, and traits from the male donor and the female are applied to the cells. They start to divide and grow into a baby. This is a miracle in itself. Life is made from something you can’t even see and another thing about the size of a small grain of sand. God could be involved, but the fact of the matter is that we understand what God is doing with science.

    In conclusion, if an individual such as yourself is allowed to continue to think in this manner, it is my opinion that such individuals should not be allowed to share in the scientific advancements of mankind, therefore

  7. Over 500 documents have been found in which Jesus has been seen after he died on the cross. And to say that he didn’t die on the cross is like saying Alexander the Great was a myth. It is that well documented. Hell is definetly true, and I dont know about you but I’d rather live in a city with gold streets than burn in hell.

  8. how do you know the bible is true?
    i mean, i have this conversation ALL the time,
    “what i hate about people who say, “evolution is true…the big bang theory must be true…global warming causes and doesn’t allow this and that…” is that they can’t back up WHY they believe what they believe”
    We have proof of evolution , we have fossils that date back WAY before the bible even exsisted. Thats all the back up we need.
    I absolutally HATE HATE HATE it when people state their opinions about GOD and THE BIBLE, where they don’t belong. What does ocean currents have anything to do with this.
    just go to god or something, and write your stuff there.
    most people. probably don’t care about what you have to say.

    AND, where the eff did this “heaven and hell” stuff come from.
    if you hate all the ‘big bang theory’ stuff, why must you tell us?
    once again , most people here probably DONT care.

  9. this is for those who don’t KNOW God, and believe in the “big bang theory.”:
    i have heard a lot from atheist the question; how can you believe and have faith in something you can’t see?
    Ask yourself, do you believe that you have a brain?
    If you do, have you seen it?
    so how can you have faith in your brain if you’ve never seen it? Or if you have seen it and are alive reading this right now, how can you believe that something so complex and unique be created by just some “accident”?

    You see a building or a house, now do you believe that some one built that building or that it was some how created by itself? just like building and the world some one created them.
    Just how God created the Earth a builder built the building.

    Now, a watch and the our world we live in are fairly much almost the same. Both are complex and both have parts that work together to keep each other moving. now out of how many chance’s did everything somehow be created by accident?one in a million? one in a billion? trillion? so if you were to take apart a watch completely piece for piece, place it in a box, and shake it around in the box. do you think that those piece’s of a watch would some how come together by “accident ” ounce again? i guarantee that now many how many times you shake that box the watch in side it shall never together again. just like evolution. thing just didn’t happen by accident or by chance.

    Really think about it.

  10. And How EXACTLY was the earth supposedly created according to YOUR god.

    A few magic words perhaps, but then who was he talking to ? there was NO-ONE there.
    Why not just get on and do it (create the universe etc.) ?
    And how do you say words in a vacuum ? – There was NO air
    And EXACTLY HOW does a few magic words create a universe+ the earth?
    Have you ANY idea as to the HOW?
    You have no idea as to the HOW , even your bible does not have a clue as to the HOW, A few MAGIC WORDS and everything is accomplished.
    Is that it – a few magic words?

    But you criticise the big bang+evolution.

    How stupid.

    You really ought to read and ESPECIALLY think more

    Or is THINKING too difficult or too much trouble ?
    All YOU need is a few magic words and your thinking stops.

    Pathetic you return to the probability argument.

    Have you not heard of evolution.?
    No-one says anything came together randomly

  11. The description of the reasons for ocean currents is over simplistic

    Even starting with no currents at all worldwide, currents would soon become established because of heat from the sun, rotation of the earth,rainfall creating rivers creating water flows/salinity
    Even if the atlantic conveyor were to stop, water temperature in the caribbean would rise very significantly (heat is currently transferred northward by the gulfstream, making the caribbean water cooler than they would otherwise be), in turn creating tremendous hurricanes. WIth the enormous winds created and huge amounts of water dumped inland these themselves would tend to create new currents (though not necessarily re-starting the altlantic conveyor)

  12. Interesting conversation to read, considering I’m really just doing science homework right now and looking up ocean currents. But I absolutely have to add my two cents.

    Listening to everyone talk about how complex currents are is really interesting to me, because people are saying how if anything were to change just a little big life would be chaos. This is totally proof that God exists! Seriously, what are the chances that everything in nature would be balance so perfectly if it was all random? Did you guys know that there is only a very small area in the galaxy that has the right amount of heat for life? And out of that small area, Earth is positioned in the one area that allows us to view the universe clearly? That is not by chance. No matter what you believe, something had to begin it. You might as well believe that there is a supreme being, it is actually a lot less far fetched then the whole “Big Bang Theory” idea. And like someone said earlier, every creation has a creator.

  13. you have it backwards.
    Krill cause the ocean currents, ocean currents cause the wind, etc etc all the way up.

    destroy the Krill by destroying their environment, and you destroy the environment for everyone else that uses it… including us.

    butterfly in china… you know the rest.

  14. one, evolution CAN be the answer to how, just not to why.
    two, the universe is random. think of all the millions of extinct species from the past.
    three, we know nothing of the universe. we cant even comprehend its size.
    four, the big bang happend billion of years ago and our earth is a result of constant change.
    five, the earth is not balanced at all. Humans have existed for about 1000,000 years. Compared to the time Earth has existed, we are next to nothing in history.
    six, extreme climate change has happend a million times in the past, it will happen a million times in the future.
    And Finally seven, DONT BE A SLAVE TO IGNORANCE, embrace all knowledge and you will be better for it. There are gaps in science as well as the bible, choose what works for you, and dont critisize others.

    In the Bible it says god gave us freewill, meaning we control our world not him. If he Does exist, hes just waiting to see what happens.

  15. i thought the tides were effected by the moon? not currents. what i learned in my marine biology class is that pressure/density, wind, temp, and the spin of the earth cause currents.

  16. Omg, Anonymous is definitely not a real bright cookie, but you keep engaging this person…stop. We need factual, interesting, scientific evidence… This peron is definitely a brain washed zealot…and you cannot hold an intellegent conversation with someone like that, so stop trying. I doubt this person as anything beyond a HS education…sounds like something my JW relatives espouse, except they don’t beleive in H E Double L.

  17. Three things come into play to explain causes of ocean currents:
    1. temperature.
    2. air pressure.
    3. wind.
    This can be perfectly explained in a circular illustration.

  18. ANyone who is commenting about god can stop, we are talking about ocean currents here, so bugger off and talk to some one who cares. things didnt just come together like some of you say. god didnt just created a whole universe for fun. the big bang THEORY is just a THEORY it doesnt mean its true but same with god. WHICH ever one makes more sense to you i dont really care just leave your stupid comments that have nothing to do with anything some where else

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