Cold One Day, Warm Another?
Using water temperature and wind vector data from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Field Research Facility explore trends in nearshore upwelling.
- Discuss the forces that contribute to upwelling and downwelling.
- Examine the relationship between wind and water temperature.
- Assess changes in water temperature and wind vectors.
Coriolis force, Coastal front, Upwelling, Downwelling, Wind vectors
tip is brought to you by Kent Hathaway, Research Oceanographer from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Field Research Facility
ask the Field Research Facility (FRF) staff why water temperatures change so
rapidly on the Outer Banks of North Carolina -- not an easy question to answer
since the ocean currents of this region are very complex. This area is the
southernmost extent of cold and relatively low saline Labrador Current water that travels south along the coast, then mixes with the warm higher
saline water of the northerly flowing Gulf Stream. As
the Gulf Stream passes Cape Hatteras,
it moves in a northeast direction, sometimes shedding rings, or eddies, of warm water that mix with the coastal water. Satellite imagery of
sea surface temperature is useful in identifying different water masses.
flowing out of the Chesapeake Bay also has an
influence on our coastal waters. As low saline water leaves the bay, it is less
dense than the ocean water and tends to float on the surface. This water may
flow south down the coast to the Outer Banks, most likely when there is a wind
from the north. Coriolis force, which causes
currents to bend to the right of their direction of travel in the northern
hemisphere, will help keep this water against the coast. These flows are often
visible as a coastal front traveling south.
the wind has a dramatic effect on driving currents. Generally the coastal water
has warmer (less dense) water on the surface and cooler (more dense) water
below. A wind blowing offshore can push the surface water along with it; colder
water from below replaces the surface water, a process called upwelling.
Conversely, an onshore wind can transport the warm surface water shoreward
pushing the cold water below, a process called downwelling.
Six temperature sensors are used to monitor the water temperature at the end of
the FRF pier (details).The
following plots show water temperature for 15 days (horizontal axis) from the
surface to 7m depth (vertical axis). Wind vectors are computed in FRF
coordinates from an anemometer (gauge 932) located at the end of the pier and
are shown below with water temperature profiles for 1-15 and 15-31 of July 2002
Download and compare the End-of-pier water temperature and wind vector graphs.
1. What trends in water temperature and wind direction do you see
for July 2002?
2. What correlation do you see between the patterns of water temperature and
wind direction for July 2002?
3. What trends in water temperature and wind direction do you see for July
4. What correlation do you see between the patterns of water temperature and
wind direction for July 2003?
5. What were the differences in water temperature and wind direction between
July 2002 and July 2003?
6. What effect does the change in water temperature have on the surrounding
(Hint: How does it effect fish, fishermen, surfers,
Visit the FRF Water Temperature page for a
full explanation of the water temperature and wind vector patterns in July 2002
and July 2003. The Bridge would like to thank Kent Hathaway and the FRF for use
of their photographs, text, data and graphs for this data tip.
upwelling resources, visit the C.O.O.L. Classroom's Upwelling Index