Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Land Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC
The Labrador Sea between Newfoundland, Canada, and the southwestern tip of Greenland is the site of a major event in the Earth's ocean circulation pattern--deep water formation. Here in the winter, Arctic air blowing over the Sea causes surface waters to become very cold, which increases their density. This cold, dense water sinks, sometimes all the way to the bottom of the ocean. Just like with the atmosphere, the ocean is involved in a never-ending cycle that distributes heat and energy from places where it is abundant to places where it is not. The cold dense water at the bottom of the ocean, called deep water, begins to flow southward toward the tropics, where the waters are warmer. The Labrador Sea is one of only a handful of places on earth that this formation of deep water occurs. In this MODIS image from June 8, 2002, one of the currents involved in the formation of deep water in the Labrador Sea can be readily seen: the ice-filled Labrador Current that is hugging the Newfoundland Coast. The Labrador Current is part of the cyclonic (i.e., in the same direction as a cyclone would move, which is counterclockwise in the northern hemisphere) circulation of the Labrador Sea. The current flows south from Baffin Bay, bringing icebergs that have calved off the west coast of Greenland. In the winter, the formation of deep water occurs primarily along the ice edge in the western Labrador Sea. The Labrador Current flows south, influencing regional climate as far as New England.
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