NASA Taking to the Air and Sea to Study Ocean Eddies

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Using scientific instruments aboard a self-propelled ocean glider and several airplanes, this first deployment of the Sub-Mesoscale Ocean Dynamics Experiment (S-MODE) mission will deploy its suite of water- and air-borne instruments to ensure that they work together to show what’s happening just below the ocean’s surface.

The full-fledged field campaign will begin in October 2021, with the aircraft based out of NASA’s Ames Research Center.

The S-MODE team hopes to learn more about small-scale movements of ocean water such as eddies.

These whirlpools span about 6.2 miles or ten kilometers, slowly moving ocean water in a swirling pattern. Scientists think that these eddies play an important role in moving heat from the surface to the ocean layers below, and vice versa.

In addition, the eddies may play a role in the exchange of heat, gases, and nutrients between the ocean and Earth’s atmosphere. Understanding these small-scale eddies will help scientists better understand how Earth’s oceans slow down global climate change.

In this image, sub-mesoscale ocean dynamics, like eddies and small currents, are responsible for the swirling pattern of these phytoplankton blooms (shown in green and light blue) in the South Atlantic Ocean on January 5, 2021.

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