Jennifer MacKinnon and the swirly things

Most of the big stuff in Earth system science arises from the small stuff. The Keeling curve is the balance between an unknowably large number of microorganisms and the cellular fixation of carbon. Clouds, covering more than half of the planet at any one time, are created at the sub-cm scale. And, increasingly, we are realizing that ocean circulation — once conceived as a sort of monstrous conveyor belt — is instead a motley crew of what Jennifer MacKinnon from the Scripps Institution calls “the swirly things”. Eddies, turbulent billows … “there’s just a ton of animals in the zoo”. Jen talks Mike through the close linkage between observations and theory: it’s hard to conceive of an Antarctic Circumpolar Current composed of a horde of eddies if you can only look over the side of one ship at a time. And the more we observe the ocean, the more interesting it becomes. It now looks, for example, that there may be super-weird interactions between internal waves and mesoscale eddies. More is coming, too, probably from Deep Argo. Yet beyond observations and theory — and as we also heard from Bill Boos — Jen’s kind of science can play a key role in advancing societally-relevant prediction systems. Plus, sabbatical in Palau*, wrestling, and Walter Munk is turning 100 — the party is on!


Music: Springish, All Eventualities and The Everlasting Itch For Things Remote by Gillicuddy. CC BY-NC 3.0.

*In the interview I said that Palau is in the Eastern Pacific. It is, of course, in the Western Pacific.

1 Comment

  1. “In the interview I said that Palau is in the Eastern Pacific. It is, of course, in the Western Pacific.”

    All that matters is that it is “an island in the Pacific.”

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