Lamont Oceanographer Recognized for Pioneering Work on Global Ocean Currents
An oceanographer who has painstakingly collected measurements from each of the world’s oceans to understand how the oceans move heat and freshwater around the planet to influence climate is the winner of the 2013 Prince Albert 1 Medal for outstanding contributions to oceanography, given by the International Association for the Physical Sciences of the Ocean (IAPSO).
Arnold L. Gordon, a physical oceanographer at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, will accept the medal on July 24, at IAPSO’s biannual meeting in Gothenberg, Sweden. “Arnold L. Gordon epitomizes the golden age of physical oceanography as a fundamentally observational science,” the medal citation reads.
Gordon earned his Ph.D. in oceanography from Columbia in 1965 and today heads Lamont’s Division of Ocean and Climate Physics. Over the last 50 years, he has collected data from the coldest and warmest waters on earth, mapping out the movement of conveyor-like currents around the globe. “More than any other physical oceanographer, Arnold has filled in our picture of the global ocean circulation,” said Mark Cane, a climate scientist at Lamont-Doherty.
On the R/V Eltanin and other research ships, Gordon spent much of his early career studying the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, the powerful current that circles the South Pole. His work helped to show just how much the seafloor topography off Antarctica determines the current’s path and structure. He also advanced understanding of the processes leading to deep ocean ventilation convection along the margins of Antarctica. In the 1980s, he shifted to the South Atlantic Ocean, where he discovered that an inflow of warm, salty water from the Indian Ocean off the rim of South Africa--the so-called Agulhas Leakage—boosts salt content in the Atlantic. In a 1986 study in the Journal of Geophysical Research, Gordon identified the Indian Ocean’s Agulhas Leakage as part of a global network of currents linked to deep-ocean overturning in the North Atlantic, known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation.
As a young scientist on the Eltanin in 1965, Gordon helped collect seafloor sediments and physical oceanographic measurements.
The Agulhas leakage led Gordon to the Indonesian seas where he works today to understand how the Pacific Ocean’s flow through the Indonesian islands replenishes the Indian Ocean. “I’ve never lost the feeling that that unexpected discoveries are still lurking out there,” said Gordon, in a story for the Lamont fall 2011 newsletter. “The division between known and unknown in science is not a sharp boundary between light and dark but, rather, a murky region full of speculations and few data, a place where imagination rules.”
Among his previous honors, Gordon in 1999 received the Maurice Ewing Medal from the American Geophysical Union, and in 1984, the Henry Bryant Bigelow Medal from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Past recipients of IAPSO’s Prince Albert 1 of Monaco medal include Walter Munk and Klaus Wyrtki, pioneering physical oceanographers, now emeriti professors at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and University of Hawaii.