What is the Gulf Stream?
The Gulf Stream is a small part of something called the 'thermohaline circulation' or 'meridional overturning circulation'. This is a large, global-scale ocean conveyor belt driven by differences in temperature and salt content – the water’s density.
Originating at the tip of Florida, the Gulf Stream is a warm and swift Atlantic Ocean current that follows the eastern coastline of the US and Canada before crossing the Atlantic Ocean towards Europe. It ensures that the climate of Western Europe is much warmer than it would otherwise be.
How does the Gulf Stream work?
As warm water flows from the equator to the poles it cools and some evaporation occurs, which increases the amount of salt. Low temperature and a high salt content means high density and the water sinks deep in the oceans. The cold, dense water also moves slowly. Eventually, it gets pulled back to the surface and warms in a process called “upwelling” and the circulation is complete.
This global process makes sure that the world’s oceans are continually mixed, and that heat and energy are distributed to all parts of the earth. This in turn contributes to the climate we experience today.