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Wednesday, 25 November 2015 17:07

Big data reveals animation of Antarctic ocean bed

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Data generated on Australia’s most powerful supercomputer, Raijin, has allowed scientific researchers to produce detailed animations of the movement of the densest and coldest water in the world, Antarctica.

So much data was used, that it took seven hours to process just one second of the animation.

Chief Investigator Dr Andy Hogg from the ANU hub of ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science worked with the National Computational Infrastructure’s Vizlab team, using a high-resolution ocean model, to produce the animation.

Associate Professor Hogg said the visualisation has revealed underwater ocean storms generated by eddies, waterfalls of cold dense water that plummet two kilometres off the Antarctic Continental Shelf into the abyss and underwater waves hundreds of metres high.

“Scientists who have seen the visualisation have been astonished at the level of detail.

“But this visualisation is about more than communicating the wonder of science to the public. Being able to actually see how the bottom water moves in three dimensions rather than just looking at numerical, two dimensional outputs has already opened new areas for scientific research.”

Dr Hogg said this latest animation peels back much of the surface layer of the ocean to explore how the cold dense water produced on the Antarctic continental shelf spreads out into every ocean basin in the world.

He said the movement of this dense water is vital - it is the most oxygenated water in the deep ocean and its extreme density and coldness drive many of the significant currents in the major ocean basins connected to the Southern Ocean.

“The distinctly different densities of water that move around Antarctica also make it important in regards to climate change. Because the most dense water forms near the surface, close to Antarctica, before descending to the ocean floor, any warming that occurs near the surface can be drawn down into the deep ocean.

“Importantly, this drives heat and carbon into the deep ocean, which would otherwise have returned to the atmosphere.”

Dr Hogg said the inhospitable climate of Antarctica and the lack of sustained observations of the ocean in this region over a significant period of time adds to the importance of using ocean models to create visualisations like these.

“It helps us understand what is happening in locations that “are difficult to observe and may explain why Antarctic bottom water is disappearing, becoming less saline and warmer. It may also give us important insights into a future under climate change.”

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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham is a co-founder of iTWire and a 35-year veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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