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Ocean Currents: List of Warm and Cold Currents-1


Ocean currents UPSC is an important topic for IAS exam. It can be asked both in UPSC Prelims and UPSC Mains as the topic involves both the concept and the memorizing part. It will be a 2-article articles. In this article, we will discuss about ocean currents and the list of cold currents.


What are ocean currents?

  • Ocean currents are the continuous, predictable, directional movement of seawater driven by gravity, wind and water density.
  • Ocean water moves in two directions: horizontally and vertically. Horizontal movements are referred to as currents, while vertical changes are called upwellings or downwellings (It will be discussed later).
  • This abiotic system is responsible for the transfer of heat, variations in biodiversity, and Earth’s climate system.


Forces influencing ocean currents

  • Ocean currents are primarily influenced by two types of forces.

Primary Forces

  • These are forces that start the movement of water. Like:
  • heating by solar energy;
  • wind;
  • gravity;
  • Coriolis force.


Secondary forces

  • These are forces that influence where the currents flow
  • Temperature difference;
  • Salinity difference.


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Types of ocean currents

  • Ocean currents can be categorised (i) on the basis of depth; (ii) on the basis of temperature.


On the basis of depth

  • Ocean currents are of two types: Surface currents and Deep-water currents.

Surface currents

  • The upper 400 meters of the ocean are generally called the surface currents.
  • They make up about 10% of all the water in the ocean.


Deep water currents

  • These waters make up the other 90% of the ocean
  • They move around the ocean basins by density driven forces and gravity.
  • These deep waters sink into the deep ocean basins at high latitudes where there is high density due to cold temperature.


On the basis of temperature

  • Ocean currents are classified as cold currents and warm currents.

Cold currents

  • Cold currents travel from high latitudes to low latitudes and thus bring cold water into warm water areas.
  • These currents are usually found on the west coast of the continents in the low and middle latitudes (true in both hemispheres) and on the east coast in the higher latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere;
  • They flow in clockwise direction in northern hemisphere and in anti-clockwise direction in southern hemisphere due to Coriolis force.


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Below is the list of cold ocean currents in the world.

List of cold ocean currents

Cold Ocean Current Region Important Points
Humboldt or Peruvian Current South Pacific Ocean
  • Named after Prussian naturalist Alexander Von Humboldt.
  • Serves as one of the major nutrient systems of the world.
  • Flows from the southernmost tip of Chile to northern Peru, along the west coast of South America.
Kurile or Oyashio Current North Pacific Ocean
  • This sub-arctic ocean current circulates in an anticlockwise direction.
  • Originates in the Arctic Ocean, flows south via the Bering Sea in the western North Pacific Ocean.
  • It is a nutrient-rich current.
  • It collides with Kurioshio current off the Japanese eastern shore to form North Pacific Drift.
California Current Pacific Ocean
  • It is the extension of Aleutian Current along the west coast of North America in southward flowing direction.
  • It is a part of North Pacific Gyre.
  • It is a region of strong Upwelling.
Antarctic Circumpolar Current Southern Ocean
  • It is the largest ocean current in the world.
  • It is also known as West Wind Drift.
  • It flows from east to west around Antarctica in a clockwise direction.
Labrador Current North Atlantic Ocean
  • It flows from the Arctic Ocean towards the south and meets the warm northward moving Gulf Stream.
  • The combination of cold Labrador Current and warm Gulf Stream is known for creating one of the richest fishing grounds of the world.
Canary Current North Atlantic Ocean
  • This Eastern Boundary Current is a part of North Atlantic Gyre.
  • It is named after the Canary Islands.
  • Presence of Upwelling.
Eastern Greenland Current Arctic Ocean & North Atlantic Ocean
  • Low salinity current extending between Fram Strait and Cape Farewell.
  • It connects the Arctic directly to North Atlantic.
  • It is a major contributor to sea-ice export out of Arctic.
Benguela Current South Atlantic Ocean
  • Branch of West Wind Drift of the Southern Hemisphere.
  • Low salinity, presence of upwelling- excellent fishing zone.
  • Eastern portion of South Atlantic Ocean Gyre.
Falkland Current South Atlantic Ocean
  • It is a branch of Antarctic Circumpolar Current.
  • Also known as Malvinas Current.
  • It is named after the Falkland Islands.
  • This cold current mixes with warm Brazil current and form Brazil-Malvinas Confluence Zone which is responsible for the region’s temperate climate.
Northeast Monsoon Current North Indian Ocean
  • Indian North Equatorial Current flows southwest and west, crossing the Equator.
Somali Current West Indian Ocean
  • Analogous to the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic Ocean.
  • Heavily influenced by monsoon.
  • Region of major upwelling system.
Western Australian Current Southern Ocean & South Indian Ocean
  • It is also known as West Wind Drift.
  • Part of Antarctic Circumpolar Current.
  • It is a seasonal current- strong in summer and weak in winter.
South Indian Ocean Current South Indian Ocean
  • Analogous to South Atlantic Current.


We will discuss more about ocean currents and the concept of gyres, upwelling, downwelling, among other topics in our next article. We will also discuss about warm ocean currents and will provide you a list of warm ocean current in our next article.


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