Transport of Freshwater by the Oceans Academic Article uri icon


  • The global distribution of freshwater transport in the ocean is presented, based on an integration point at Bering Strait, which connects the Pacific and Atlantic oceans via the Arctic Ocean. Through Bering Strait, 0.8 x 10(6) m3 s-1 of relatively fresh, 32.5 psu, water flows from the Pacific into the Arctic Ocean. Baumgartner and Reichel’s tabulation of the net gain of freshwater by the ocean in 5-degrees-latitude intervals is then integrated from the reference location at Bering Strait to yield the meridional freshwater transport in each ocean. Freshwater transport in the Pacific is directed northward at nearly all latitudes. In the Atlantic, the freshwater transport is directed southward at all latitudes, with a small southward freshwater transport out of the Atlantic across 35-degrees-S. Salt transport, which must be considered jointly with the freshwater transport, is northward throughout the Pacific and southward throughout the Atlantic (in the same direction as the freshwater flux) and is equal to the salt transport through the Bering Strait. The circulation around Australasia associated with the poorly known Pacific-Indian throughflow modifies the above scenario only in the South Pacific and Indian oceans. A moderate choice for the throughflow indicates that it dominates the absolute meridional fluxes of freshwater and salt in these oceans. The global freshwater scheme presented here differs markedly from earlier interpretations and suggests the need for a careful assessment of the treatment of ocean freshwater and salt transports in inverse, numerical, and climate models.

publication date

  • February 1992