Seeing Salt

Large amounts of warm water move around the oceans’ surface — with an influence on climate in many parts of the world. A scientist talks about ways to track where all this water goes

Arnold Gordon — an oceanographer at Columbia University — is already looking ahead to 2016.

That’s when scientists plan to launch a satellite called Aquarius, whose mission is to study salt in the ocean.

Arnold Gordon: We don’t have satellites that measure salinity of the surface, all we have to rely on is those 100 years of data from ships at sea. It gives a very blurry picture of the surface salinity.

Dr. Gordon wants to combine new knowledge about ocean salt with data from existing satellites on ocean temperature, salinity, chemistry…

Arnold Gordon: . . . and you can trace those characteristics as they spread through the ocean. These characteristics more dilute as they spread because the ocean in a turbulent place and you have mixing with surrounding waters. So it gets to be quite an art form as you trace these waters around the world ocean.

Ultimately, Gordon wants to learn more about an enormous loop of water that moves through all the world’s oceans — a so-called ocean “conveyor belt” that might help drive global climate.

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