The global ocean conveyor belt is a constantly moving system of deep-ocean circulation driven by temperature and salinity

Illustration of the global ocean conveyor.

The great ocean conveyor moves water around the globe.

The ocean is not a still body of water. There is constant motion in the ocean in the form of a global ocean conveyor belt. This motion is due to thermohaline currents (thermo = temperature; haline = salinity). Cold, salty water is dense and sinks to the bottom of the ocean while warm water is less dense and rises to the surface.

The ocean conveyor gets it “start” in the Norwegian Sea, where warm water from the Gulf Stream heats the atmosphere in the cold northern latitudes. This loss of heat to the atmosphere makes the water cooler and denser, causing it to sink to the bottom of the ocean. As more warm water is transported north, the cooler water sinks and moves south to make room for the incoming warm water. This cold bottom water flows south of the equator all the way down to Antarctica. Eventually, the cold bottom waters are able to warm and rise to the surface, continuing the conveyor belt that encircles the globe.

It takes almost 1,000 years for the conveyor belt to complete one “cycle.”

For more information:
The Global Conveyor Belt, NOS Education
Ocean Conveyor Belt, NOAA Science on A Sphere