Skip to Content

Researchers identify mechanism responsible for temperature and salinity 'staircases' in Arctic Ocean

Researchers at the University of Toronto have identified the mechanism responsible for the formation of temperature and salinity “staircases” in the Arctic Ocean, resolving a mystery that has confounded oceanographers and climatologists alike for more than half a century. Understanding how these vertical structures work promises to shed more light on the causes and consequences of rapid Arctic sea ice loss amid climate change.
Yuchan Ma News
(image courtesy of Yuchen Ma and W. Richard Peltier)

By Sean Bettam - U of T News

“Our discovery of a new mechanism of hydrodynamic instability provides insights into the formation of staircase-like structures resulting from the mixing of warm salt water and cooler fresh water,” said Yuchen Ma, a PhD candidate in the department of physics in the Faculty of Arts & Science and lead author of a study published in Physical Review Fluids describing the findings.

“These structures were first observed in the late 1960s but the mechanism responsible for their existence has never been explained.”

Known as thermohaline staircases, these step-like variations of temperature and salt concentration are common in a wide range of regions of the global ocean.

Read the full article in U of T News here:|