The volume transport of the Florida Current (one of the parts of the Gulf Stream) is measured using an underwater cable. What are the processes that allow for these measurements? How can we obtain measurements from a cable? Where else is this technique applied?

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Image from http://oceancurrents.rsmas.miami.edu/atlantic/florida.html

  • $\begingroup$ here is one way ocean currents are measured en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acoustic_Doppler_current_profiler i dont know if this helps. $\endgroup$ Oct 10, 2017 at 16:53
  • $\begingroup$ ADCPs are used to measure currents, but in this case they use the difference on voltage at the two ends of a submarine cable as mentioned in @Flyto's answer $\endgroup$
    – arkaia
    Oct 11, 2017 at 1:45

2 Answers 2


From Prandle 19791:

The flow of water across the vertical component of the Earth's magnetic field induces a potential gradient in the water; measurements of the difference in voltage between the opposite sides of a tidal channel provide an indication of the magnitude of the tidal flow

I imagine that having a cable across the channel enables an accurate comparison of voltage on either side.

I suspect that this is a large-scale example of the Hall Effect, but that part of my physics is too rusty to say for sure!

1 D. Prandle, "Anomalous results for tidal flow through the Pentland Firth", Nature vol 278, pp 541-542 http://www.homepages.ed.ac.uk/shs/Tidal%20Stream/Prandle%20phase%20anomaly.pdf

Maxwell showed that the motion of electrically charged particles in any magnetic field creates an electric field. The two fields would be perpendicular to one another. As seawater containing a large amount of ions (it is salty after all) moves through Earth's magnetic field in ocean currents, it generates the an electric field that as the theory predict will be perpendicular to the water current. The electric field is the result of the vertically average effect of the ocean motion. When a submarine cable is available between two points, the change in electrical current at both ends of the cable can be measured. The change will be proportional to the "vertically integrated ocean current" or ocean current transport (the total flux of water through a given area).

The first demonstrations were conducted by Henry Stommel in the 1950's. A full array of measurements are conducted in the Florida Straits taking advantage of submarine cables connecting Florida and Bahamas. The sources of errors and variability were discussed by Larsen, 1992.

NOAA AOML provides a good description of the theory and applications.

Stommel, H., 1957. Florida Straits Transports, 1952-1956. Bulletin of Marine Science, 7(3), pp.252-254.

  • $\begingroup$ I didn't want to answer my own question so I added it to yours. You can change it as you wish. $\endgroup$
    – arkaia
    Oct 9, 2017 at 16:34
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Nothing wrong with answering one's own question on SE! $\endgroup$ Oct 9, 2017 at 17:58
  • $\begingroup$ True, but I think ultimately it would complement your answer rather than providing a complete one. $\endgroup$
    – arkaia
    Oct 10, 2017 at 0:25

The most likely explanation is that a device similar to a hot wire anemometer has been used; but one that has been designed to be used in oceans.

A hot wire anemometer is basically an electric heater that has been calibrated. The heating element radiates heat into a surrounding medium, depending on the design and construction of the anemometer, either air or water. The greater the heat loss, the greater the flow of the cooling medium over the anemometer element.

By calibrating the anemometer it is possible to determine the velocity of the medium, in this case ocean current, over the anemometer and from that it is possible to determine the volume flow rate.

Solid state devices, using silicon transistor sensors have also been developed to measure ocean currents.


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