New Study by Rowan Faculty Enhances Understanding of Ancient Ocean Currents

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It’s not every day that scientific discoveries are made that completely change our current perception of the world.

This current and groundbreaking discovery had its roots in none other than Glassboro, New Jersey.

The study provided an understanding of a new scientific territory, the Tasman Leakage. The lead author was Rowan University’s very own, Dr. Beth Christensen, professor and founding chair of the department of environmental science

On Sept. 7, 2021, a study titled “Late Miocene Onset of Tasman Leakage and Southern Hemisphere Supergyre Ushers in Near-Modern Circulation,” was published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, a publication of the American Geophysical Union.

Before the Tasman Leakage was discovered about 20 years ago, the Indonesian Throughflow was believed to be the conjunction between the Pacific and the Atlantic. The pathway, determined to be an intermediate-level ocean current, is found 500 to 1000 meters below the surface of the ocean.

It runs from the Tasman Sea, located between Australia and New Zealand, “flowing southwest around Australia, into the Indian Ocean and ultimately into the Atlantic,” as the study states. In order to ascertain the roundabouts of the current’s genesis, Christensen and her team used carbon isotopes from single-celled organisms and local sedimentation patterns collected by International Ocean Discovery Program, a global research initiative for shipboard scientists.

Their research concluded the first sign of the Tasman Leakage was seven million years ago. The earth was developing drastically. At that time, Australia shifted its position away from the Subantarctic Front, allowing westward flow. Causation is not definite, but it is beyond doubt that both were concurrent. 

The broad reaches of oceanography down to the infinitesimal scale impacts everyday life and having a better understanding of the subject is vital.

The effects of the Tasman Leakage can be felt universally. It extends into areas of global and local ecosystems, oceanography and climate change.

With new information and explanations about occurrences like the Tasman Leakage, scientists are able to make tenacious climate models. The resources of past and ongoing research improve current understanding and eventually influence future solutions.

The findings of this study can be used on a larger scale to comprehend climate change by examining differences in ocean patterns.

“We are still learning the role it plays in global ocean circulation and climate,” Dr. Christensen said.

Overall, the study offers a holistic view of the oceanic movement and adds detail to create a more defined model of global currents.

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