Thermohaline staircases

staircase figureThe figure at the right shows the signature form of staircases: temperature and salinity vary in a step like fashion in the vertical with homogeneous layers 10 - 30 meters thick separated by sharp vertical gradients of one to a few meters.  Note the squareness of the corners in these profiles in the depth range between 250 and 350 meters.  Most salinity and temperature profiles have more gradual changes like those shown on this plot deeper than 400 meters.

Thermohaline staircases are found in ocean regions where temperature and salinity both decrease with depth and nearly compensate in density.  The layers are believed to be sustained by convective mixing driven by vertical buoyancy fluxes caused by salt fingering in the sharp gradient regions.

return to SFTRE-1

return to SFTRE-2