The first ever global map of the salinity of our ocean surface has arrived, and the findings are astounding oceanographers. NASA’s Aquarius satellite is making never-before-seen observations of ocean salinity variations, or the concentrations of dissolved salt. Experts are calling this map “a great moment in the history of oceanography.”
Gary Lagerloef of Earth & Space Research in Seattle is Aquarius’ principal investigator. According to Lagerloef, “Aquarius will soon allow scientists to explore the connections between global rainfall, ocean currents and climate variations.” This is important because some studies have shown that climate change is making our world’s oceans more salty, as warmer temperatures have significantly increased oceanic evaporation and reduced rainfall across great expanses of water.
The map is showing surprising results. As NASA writes: “The map shows several well-known ocean salinity features such as higher salinity in the subtropics; higher average salinity in the Atlantic Ocean compared to the Pacific and Indian oceans; and lower salinity in rainy belts near the equator, in the northernmost Pacific Ocean and elsewhere. These features are related to large-scale patterns of rainfall and evaporation over the ocean, river outflow and ocean circulation.”
Aquarius is part of the joint U.S./Argentinian Aquarius/Satélite de Aplicaciones Científicas (SAC)-D mission. It will continue to observe the salt levels from space, bring a broader understanding to how salt levels influence the water cycle and ocean circulation.
Image courtesy of NASA/GSFC/JPL-Caltech