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NEWS | March 1, 2023

Henry Melson Stommel: Ocean Currents and Western Intensification

By Mr. Clayton Boyd, Public Affairs, Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command

Naval Meteorology and Oceanographic Command honors the work of Henry Melson Stommel for years spent in dedication to oceanography and meteorology.
Henry Melson Stommel was an American oceanographer and meteorologist most recognized for work in identifying western intensification, advancing theories in global circulation, and establishing Panulirus Station.   
The 1940’s saw several enlightening discoveries giving way to theories of maritime environments still in practice today. At the head of these new discoveries was a theory called western intensification. Stommel recognized western boundary currents, such as Gulf Stream and Kuroshio Currents, having not only larger but steadier transport than corresponding boundary currents such as California and Canary Currents. Due to stronger currents on the western side of gyres in both hemispheres, currents on the east coast of continents are stronger than their western counterparts.
As well as western intensification, Stommel proposed a global circulation in which water sinks in upper northern regions to feed deep, south-moving currents, while water rises in the southern Antarctic region to supply north-moving currents along the coasts of North and South America. Later discoveries of such boundary currents confirmed his hypothesis, and the “conveyer belt” model is still recognized today.
Among his achievements lies the establishment of Panulirus Station at the Bermuda Biological Station for Research, where research vessel Panulirus operated to obtain vertical water samples of temperature, salinity, and chemical data. The resulting dataset constitutes the longest such data series of similar character in the North Atlantic Ocean.
U.S. Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command directs and oversees more than 2,500 globally-distributed military and civilian personnel who collect, process and exploit environmental information to assist Fleet and Joint Commanders in all warfare areas to make better decisions, based on assured environmental information, faster than the adversary.

Commander, Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command | 1100 Balch Blvd. | Stennis Space Center, Mississippi 39529