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Ever Heard Of: The Antarctic Circumpolar Current

Posted by jase on June 24, 2009

The Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) is an ocean current that flows from west to east around Antarctica. An alternate name for the ACC is the West Wind Drift. The ACC is the dominant circulation feature of the Southern Ocean and, at approximately 125 Sverdrups, the largest ocean current. It keeps warm ocean waters away from Antarctica, enabling that continent to maintain its huge ice sheet.

The ACC has been known to sailors for many years; circumstances preceding the Mutiny on the Bounty and Jack London’s story “Make Westing” poignantly illustrated the difficulty it caused for mariners seeking to round Cape Horn on the clipper ship route between New York and California.

The current creates two Antarctic gyres, and is the strongest current system in the world oceans, the one that links the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific basins.

An expedition in May 2008 by 19 scientists studied the geology and biology of eight Macquarie Ridge sea mounts, as well as the Antarctic Circumpolar Current to investigate the effects of climate change of the southern Ocean. The circumpolar current merges the waters of the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans and carries up to 150 times the volume of water flowing in all of the world’s rivers. After studying the circumpolar current it is clear that it strongly influences regional and global climate as well as underwater biodiversity.

Further Reading:

Cape Horn


Drake Passage

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