Abyssal plains heat exchange could explain global deficit


  • Colin Schultz


When researchers measure the amount of heat flowing conductively from the seafloor to the ocean waters and then compare that value against a theoretical prediction of that heat loss, they observe that the global average measured heat flow is lower than expected. Researchers think that advection, a heat transfer mechanism that is difficult to measure, makes up this difference between predicted and observed heat exchange. They suggest that as seawater circulates through the permeable upper layers of the seafloor crust, driven by a thermal gradient, the water accumulates heat, drawing it into the ocean. Scientists have recently proposed that seafloor sediment plays an important role in controlling the geometry of such intraocean crust circulation. In the abyssal plains, the accumulation of millions of years' worth of low permeability sediment limits direct contact between the ocean and the crust. Where the sediment is thin or absent—for example, at outcrops—water is thought to be able to move between the ocean and the crust. Scientists propose that seawater can travel through the crust for tens of kilometers beneath the sediment, moving laterally from outcrop to outcrop.