July 7th, 2015This visualization depicts global water-surface temperatures, with the surface texture driven by vorticity. Cool temperatures are designated by blues and warmer temperatures by reds.The Model For Prediction Across Scales-Ocean is used to investigate the effects of climate change. Colors show speed, where white is fast and blue is slow.
When viewed in just the right way, Earth is covered in swirling brushstrokes that put Van Gogh’s most famous works to shame. Differences in temperature and pressure, friction and other phenomena cause fluids like water in the ocean and air in the atmosphere to move in mesmerizing patterns. Sometimes it just takes a supercomputer to see the dance.

These images represent the next generation of ocean current models that reveal some of the hidden action. Produced by the Department of Energy’s Los Alamos National Lab, the top image shows Atlantic Ocean water surface temperatures and the bottom illustrates the Southern Ocean’s currents and eddies flowing eastward around Antarctica.

Both are part of the lab’s Climate, Ocean and Sea Ice Modeling program to project global alterations to the planet from climate change using the most advanced technologies and methods. Models were built using a supercomputer that operates 8,000 processors simultaneously and verified against real-world satellite and shipboard observations.

The top sea-surface-temperature map illustrates how current eddies transport heat trapped in regions adjacent to the Gulf Stream off the U.S. East Coast. Temperature is indicated by color. This action helps bring warmer temperatures to Northern Europe.

In the bottom picture, color represents velocity of the turbulent ocean current structures–white is fastest and dark blue is slowest. Individual eddies can be nearly 100 miles across, and move warmer water towards Antarctica to moderate temperature. This, in turn, has a significant impact on global climate.

The lab’s work is part of an effort to produce the next generation of climate models that harness more powerful computing and a better understanding of the planet’s systems.

Images courtesy of Los Alamos National Lab.