Updated April 27 at 11:30am

Ocean research fundamental to study of life on earth

‘A good percentage of the carbon dioxide increase is being taken up by oceans.’

When Thomas Rossby retired from teaching last fall after 36 years at the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography, he was not only one of the university’s longest-serving professors, but one of the most distinguished in his field. Since first studying oceanography at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the late 1960s, Rossby used his engineering background to develop new techniques for measuring ocean currents, including through individual floats and on instruments attached to ocean-going ships. More

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Ocean research fundamental to study of life on earth

‘A good percentage of the carbon dioxide increase is being taken up by oceans.’

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When Thomas Rossby retired from teaching last fall after 36 years at the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography, he was not only one of the university’s longest-serving professors, but one of the most distinguished in his field. Since first studying oceanography at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the late 1960s, Rossby used his engineering background to develop new techniques for measuring ocean currents, including through individual floats and on instruments attached to ocean-going ships.

At a recent URI “Rossby Symposium,” former students and colleagues gathered to discuss his research and contributions to the understanding of the world’s oceans.

PBN: For years scientists have wondered whether rising global temperatures and melting polar ice could result in significant changes to the Gulf Stream. From your research, what is going on in the Gulf Stream and is it in any danger?

ROSSBY: From the measurements we have taken over 20 years now, we can say with considerable confidence how the Gulf Stream varies seasonally and from one year to the next. The good news is that the Gulf Stream is not changing – it is quite stable. It is fluctuating from year to year thanks to wind systems that vary, winters are never the same, so it fluctuates, but there is no evidence whatsoever that it is slowing down or speeding up.

PBN: Are there any major changes that you do see in the Atlantic water currents?

ROSSBY: We are seeing quite large changes in the northern Atlantic, east of Labrador and west of the United Kingdom. There are large expansions and contractions of the pool of cold water, what is called the polar gyre east of Greenland. Those are probably mostly related to changes in heating and cooling but the winds are also playing an important role. There is a lot we don’t understand there and that is an area we must instrument better. There is much interest in being able to do a better job in measuring the North Atlantic.

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