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A schematic showing the ocean "conveyor belt", where surface waters sink, enter deep water circulation, then resurface after slowly flowing through the deep ocean.
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The Deep Waters of the Ocean

Do you know how deep the ocean is? In a lot of places, it is as deep as some of the mountains on Earth are tall. When we swim in the ocean or go sailing on the ocean, we are in the surface waters of the ocean. But, most of the water in the ocean is in the deep ocean.

The deep ocean isn't directly affected by wind or storms or waves or tides. The deep waters in the ocean are in layers. The top layers are less dense than the bottom layers. All of the deep ocean water is very cold and salty!

Some of the water on the surface of the ocean sinks to the deep parts of the ocean. Then the water spends a long time (thousands of years, sometimes!) in the deep part of the ocean. Then the water comes back to the surface. The picture above shows that. Take your finger and trace a path that the ocean water could take. Can you see a way that the ocean water could take a different path?

Last modified September 27, 2001 by Jennifer Bergman.

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The Summer 2010 issue of The Earth Scientist, available in our online store, includes articles on rivers and snow, classroom planetariums, satellites and oceanography, hands-on astronomy, and global warming.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA