Corrientes marinas (in english)




Tipos y causas de las corrientes.


The movement of ocean water is one of the two principal sources of discrepancy between dead reckoned and actual positions of vessels. Water in motion is called a current; the direction toward which it moves is called set, and its speed is called drift. Modern shipping speeds have lessened the impact of currents on a typical voyage, and since electronic navigation allows continuous adjustment of course, there is less need to estimate current set and drift before setting the course to be steered. Nevertheless, a knowledge of ocean currents can be used in cruise planning to reduce transit times, and current models are an integral part of ship routing systems. Oceanographers have developed a number of methods of classifying currents in order to facilitate descriptions of their physics and geography. Currents may be referred to according to their forcing mechanism as either wind driven or thermohaline. Alternatively, they may be classified according to their depth (surface, intermediate, deep or bottom). The surface circulation of the world’s oceans is mostly wind driven. Thermohaline currents are driven by differences in heat and salt and are associated with the sinking of dense water at high latitudes; the currents driven by thermohaline forces are typically subsurface. Note that this classification scheme is not unambiguous; the circumpolar current, which is wind driven, extends from the surface to the bottom. A periodic current is one for which the speed or direction changes cyclically at somewhat regular intervals, such as a tidal current. A seasonal current is one which changes in speed or direction due to seasonal winds. The mean circulation of the ocean consists of semi-permanent currents which experience relatively little periodic or seasonal change. A coastal current flows roughly parallel to a coast, outside the surf zone, while a longshore current is one parallel to a shore, inside the surf zone, generated by waves striking the beach at an angle. Any current some distance from the shore may be called an offshore current, and one close to the shore an inshore current. General information on ocean currents is available from

NOAA’s National Ocean Data Center at:

Satellite graphics and other data can be found at:

3101. Causes of Ocean Currents The primary generating forces are wind and differences in water density caused by variations in heat and salinity Currents generated by these forces are modified by such factors as depth of water, underwater topography including shape of the basin in which the current is running, extent and location of land, and deflection by the rotation of the Earth. 3102. Wind Driven Currents The stress of wind blowing across the sea causes a surface layer of water to move. Due to the low viscosity of water, this stress is not directly communicated to the ocean interior, but is balanced by the Coriolis force within a relatively thin surface layer, 10-200m thick. This layer is called the Ekman layer and the motion of this layer is called the Ekman transport. Because of the deflection by the Coriolis force, the Ekman transport is not in the direction of the wind, but is 90° to the right in the Northern Hemisphere and 90° toward the left in the Southern Hemisphere. The amount of water flowing in this layer depends only upon the wind and the Coriolis force and is independent of the depth of the Ekman layer and the viscosity of the water. The large scale convergence or divergence of Ekman transport serves to drive the general ocean circulation. Consider the case of the Northern Hemisphere subtropics. To the south lie easterly winds with associated northward Ekman transport. To the north lie westerly winds with southward Ekman transport. The convergence of these Ekman transports is called Ekman pumping and results in a thickening of the upper ocean and a increase in the depth of the thermocline. The resulting subsurface pressure gradients, balanced by the Coriolis force, give rise to the anticyclonic subtropical gyres found at mid latitudes in each ocean basin. In subpolar regions, Ekman suction produces cyclonic gyres. These wind driven gyres are not symmetrical. Along the western boundary of the oceans, currents are narrower, stronger, and deeper, often following a meandering course. These currents are sometimes called a stream. In contrast, currents in mid-ocean and at the eastern boundary, are often broad, shallow and slow-moving. Sometimes these are called drift currents. Within the Ekman layer, the currents actually form a 434 OCEAN CURRENTS spiral. At the surface, the difference between wind direction and surface wind-current direction varies from about 15° along shallow coastal areas to a maximum of 45° in the deep oceans. As the motion is transmitted to successively deep layers, the Coriolis force continues to deflect the current. At the bottom of the Ekman layer, the current flows in the opposite direction to the surface current. This shift of current directions with depth, combined with the decrease in velocity with depth, is called the Ekman spiral. The velocity of the surface current is the sum of the velocities of the Ekman, geostrophic, tidal, and other currents. The Ekman surface current or wind drift current depends upon the speed of the wind, its constancy, the length of time it has blown, and other factors. In general, however, wind drift current is about 2 percent of the wind speed, or a little less, in deep water where the wind has been blowing steadily for at least 12 hours.