Distribution of Density
The distribution of the density of the ocean waters is characterized by two features. In a vertical direction the stratification is generally stable (p. 416), and in a horizontal direction differences in density can exist only in the presence of currents. The general distribution of density is therefore closely related to the character of the currents, but for the present purposes it is sufficient to emphasize the point that in every ocean region water of a certain density which sinks from the sea surface tends to sink to and spread at depths where that density is found.
Since the density of sea water depends on its temperature and salinity, all processes that alter the temperature or the salinity influence the density. At the surface the density is decreased by heating, addition
In the open oceans the temperature of the surface water in lower and middle latitudes is so high that the density of the water remains low even in regions where excess evaporation causes high salinities. In these latitudes convection currents are limited to a relatively thin layer near the surface and do not lead to the formation of deep or bottom water. Such formation takes place mainly in high latitudes where, however, the excess of precipitation in most regions prevents the development of convection currents that reach great depths. This excess of precipitation is so great that deep and bottom water is formed only in two cases: (1) if water of high salinity which has been carried into high latitudes by currents is cooled, and (2) if relatively high-salinity water freezes.
The first conditions are encountered in the North Atlantic Ocean where water of the Gulf Stream system, the salinity of which has been raised in lower latitudes by excessive evaporation, is carried into high latitudes. In the Irminger Sea, between Iceland and Greenland, and in the Labrador Sea this water is partly mixed with cold water of low salinity which flows out from the Polar Sea (p. 682). This mixed water has a relatively high salinity, and, when cooled in winter, convection currents that may reach from the surface to the bottom develop before any formation of ice begins. In this manner deep and bottom water is formed which has a high salinity and a temperature which lies several degrees above the freezing point of the water (table 82, p. 683). A similar process takes place in the Norwegian Sea, but there deep and bottom water is formed at a temperature that deviates only slightly from the freezing temperatures (p. 657).
In the Arctic the second process is of minor importance. There the salinity of the surface layers is very low in the regions where freezing occurs, mainly because of the enormous masses of fresh water that are carried into the sea by the Siberian rivers. Close to the Antarctic
In some isolated adjacent seas the evaporation may be so intense that a moderate cooling leads to the formation of bottom water. This is the case in the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea, and to some extent in the inner part of the Gulf of California, in which the bottom water has a high temperature and salinity and is formed by winter cooling of water whose salinity has been increased greatly by evaporation. Where such seas are in communication with the open oceans, deep water flows out over the sill, mixes with the water masses of the ocean, and spreads out at an intermediate depth corresponding to its density (pp. 670 and 693).
In general, the water of the greatest density is formed in high latitudes, and because this water sinks and fills all ocean basins, the deep and bottom water of all oceans is cold. Only in a few isolated basins in middle latitudes is relatively warm deep and bottom water encountered. When spreading out from the regions of formation the bottom water receives small amounts of heat from the interior of the earth, but this heat is carried away by eddy conduction and currents, and its effect on the temperature distribution is imperceptible.
Sinking of surface water is not limited to regions in which water of particularly high density is formed, but occurs also wherever converging currents (convergences) are present, the sinking water spreading at intermediate depths according to its density. In general, the density of the upper layers increases from the Tropics toward the Poles, and water that sinks at a convergence in a high latitude therefore spreads at a greater depth than water that sinks at a convergence in middle latitudes.
The most conspicuous convergence is the Antarctic Convergence, which can be traced all around the Antarctic Continent (fig. 158, p. 606). The water that sinks at this convergence has a low salinity, but it also has a low temperature and consequently a relatively high density. This water, the Antarctic Intermediate Water, spreads directly over the deep water and is present in all southern oceans at depths between 1200 and
In middle and lower latitudes two more convergences are found, the Subtropical and the Tropical Convergences. These are not so well defined as the Antarctic Convergence, but must be considered more as regions in which converging currents are present. The Subtropical Convergence is located in latitudes in which the density of the upper layers increases rapidly toward the Poles. The sinking water therefore has a higher density the farther it is removed from the Equator and will spread out at the greater depths.
In the Tropics the density of the surface water is so low that, regardless of how intense a convergence is, water from the surface cannot sink to any appreciable depth but spreads out at a short distance below the surface. A sharp boundary surface develops between this light top layer and the denser water at some greater depth.
In order to account for the general features of the density distribution in the sea, emphasis has been placed on descending motion of surface water, but regions evidently must exist in which ascending motion prevails, because the amount of water that rises toward the surface must exactly equal the amount that sinks. Ascending motion occurs in regions of diverging currents (divergences), which may be present anywhere in the sea but which are particularly conspicuous along the western coasts of the continents, where prevailing winds carry the surface waters away from the coasts. There, the upwelling of subsurface water takes place, which will be described when dealing with specific areas. The upwelling brings water of greater density and lower temperature toward the surface and exercises therefore a widespread influence upon conditions off coasts where the process takes place, but the water rises from depths of less than a few hundred meters. Ascending motion takes place on a large scale around the Antarctic Continent, particularly to the south of the Atlantic Ocean, where rising deep water replaces water that contributes to the formation of the Antarctic bottom water and also replaces water that sinks at the Antarctic Convergence.
It is evident from these considerations that in middle and low latitudes the vertical distribution of density to some extent reflects the horizontal distribution at or near the surface between the Equator and the Poles. It is also evident that, in general, the deeper water in any vertical column is composed of water from different source regions and was once present in the surface somewhere in a higher latitude. Such generalizations are subject, however, to modifications within different ocean areas, owing to the character of the currents, and these modifications will be discussed when dealing with the different oceans.