Antarctic Circumpolar Current

The Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) is an ocean current that flows clockwise from west to east around Antarctica. An alternative 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. The current is circumpolar due to the lack of any landmass connecting with Antarctica and this keeps warm ocean waters away from Antarctica, enabling that continent to maintain its huge ice sheet.

Associated with the Circumpolar Current is the Antarctic Convergence where the cold Antarctic waters meet the warmer waters of the subantarctic, creating a zone of upwelling nutrients. These nurture high levels of phytoplankton with associated copepods and krill, and resultant foodchains supporting fish, whales, seals, penguins, albatrosses and a wealth of other species.

The ACC has been known to sailors for centuries; it greatly speeds up any voyages from west to east, but makes sailing extremely difficult from east to west; though this is mostly due to the prevailing westerly winds. The 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 clipper route, which is the fastest sailing route around the world, follows the ACC around three continental capes - Cape Agulhas (Africa), South East Cape (Australia) and Cape Horn (South America).

The current creates the Ross and Weddell gyres.

Read more about Antarctic Circumpolar CurrentStructure, Dynamics, Formation, Phytoplankton, Studies

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