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Glossary of

Oceanographic Terms

2d Edition


Edited by B. B. BAKER, Jr.,


Oceanographic Analysis Division

Marine Sciences Department


Washington, D.C. 20390

For sale by authorized sales agents of the U.S. Naval Oceanographic Office; also by Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402 - Price $2.25


The increasing application of oceanography to naval opera- tions, planning, and research is resulting in the dissemination

to the Fleet of many types of publications by this Office.


i7itent of this glossary is to provide the users of our publications

with current basic definitions of the technical terms used therein

as an aid to the understanding, interpretation, and application of the environmental data presented. Hopefully, others in the

oceanographic community will find this glossary helpful.

To improve future editions of this publication, users are

urged to submit comments, suggestions, and pertinent material.


Rear Admiral, U.S. Navy




This glossary attempts to provide the

U.S. Fleet;

Naval shore facilities, lab-

oratories, planning staffs, and instruc-

tional components; other governmental

agencies concerned with the marine en- vironment ; foreign hydrographic/ocean-

ographic activities; merchant marine;

ocean engineering industry;



oceanographic community in general with definitions of technical terms used


oceanography and


allied marine

As the field of oceanography encom-


practically all





the compilers of this glos-

sary recognized from the outset that,



prescribed framework of

time, manpower, and funds, this publi-

cation could

not possibly

include the

entire complex lexicon which has evolved

from the marine sciences over the past

few decades.

For the most part, the

terms and definitions cited here repre-

sent current and, in some places, past

usage in the marine aspects of physics,

chemistry, biology, geology, geophysics,

geography, mathematics, and meteorol-


particularly in the manner


these terms are used in the U.S. Naval

Oceanographic Office research, opera-

tions, and publications.

The selection of terms for inclusion,

together with their definitions, was left

to the discretion of the several subject


employed at this Office who

contributed the bulk





terms and their


were selected from existing sources or

publications dealing with specific aspects

of oceanography,






available related glossaries. Some terms

in borderline subject areas were included

arbitrarily, and the tendency here was

dition to compilation, review, consolida-

tion, and design of format by the editing

committee, another substantive review of

the entire manuscript was performed by the various components of this Office,

among whom draft copies were



In order that this glossary may serve


user with minimum effort



part, the terms are arranged alphabeti-

cally and followed immediately by a

definition or a reference to the preferred


In some entries the user is

referred to a related term whose defini- tion contains an explanation of the term

in question.

Synon3ans, symbols, and

scientific names are italicized. An aster-

isk indicates a copyrighted name. Nearly

all terms are singular nouns; verbs and

adjectives have been kept to a minimiun. Also, mathematical equations have been

kept to a minimum and, where possible,

stated in sentence form.

Where a term

has more than one definition, each defi-

nition is numbered, the first definition

representing the term's applicability to

oceanography or its use in this Office;

otherwise, the sequence is arbitrary. As

a further aid to the user, some words

(in boldface type)

within a definition




cross reference

whereby the user can go to a term de-

fined elsewhere in this glossary.


effort was made to keep the definitions

as uncomplicated as possible, since this

glossary is not intended to be "encyclo-


Illustrations have been used

sparingly and confined to the simplest

fonns of representation.

Although the references used in pre- paring this glossary represent only a small portion of the extensive literature

devoted to the marine sciences, the List

giving tlie authoritative source of a defi-

nition and 2) giving sources from which

a review of a specific subject can be



Where the

definition given re-

substantially that




source, a number in parentheses corre-

sponding to that item in the List of


follows the




term has multiple definitions, the loca-

tion of the source number underneath

the entry on the left indicates that this

source supports all definitions;


wise, each definition has its own refer-

ence number, if applicable. Definitions

containing no source number represent the opinion of the contributing specialist

or a major modification of an existing


As a further guide to the user, ap- pendixes are included which contain in-

formation of possible interest, although

not necessarily within the basic scope




Appendix A contains

abbreviations and acronyms related to

oceanography-oriented Navy projects,

operations, and equipment and scientific

usage in general. Appendix B contains

abbreviations, titles, and locations of in-





groups currently engaged either directly

in oceanography or in work in closely

allied marine sciences.


abioseston See tripton.

ablation 1. The combined processes (such as sub-

limation, melting, evaporation) which remove

snow or ice from the surface of a glacier, snow- field, etc. ; in this sense, the opposite of alimen-


Particularly in glaciology, the term

may be applied to reduction of the entire snow- ice mass, and may also include losses by wind action and by calving.

Air temperature is the dominant factor in con-

trolling ablation; precipitation amounts exer-

cise only secondary control. During the abla-

tion season, an ablation rate of about two milli-

meters per hour is typical of most glaciers.

2. The amount of snow or ice removed by the

above processes; in this sense, the opposite of



abnormalOpposed to normal in whatever sense

the latter term is used.

Wlien normal signifies

typical, abnormal means unusual, lying outside

the range of common occurrence. When normal

signifies an arithmetic mean or median value,

abnormal implies a deviation, however slight,

from the mean or median. (5)

abrasionThe wearing away or rounding of sur-

faces by friction; for example, the action of

glaciers, wind, and waterborne sand on rocks

or rock fragments.

abrasion platformA surface of marine denuda-

tion formed by wave erosion which is still in its

original position at or near the wave base, with

the marine forces still operating on it.

absolute index of refraction

See index of re-

fraction (sense 1). absolute refractive index See index of refrac-

tion (sense 1).

absolute temperature scale(abbreviated A).

See Kelvin temperature scale.

absorptanceThe ratio of the radiant flux lost

from a beam by means of absorption to the in-

cident flux.


absorption 1. The process in which incident ra- diant energy is retained by a substance. A fur- ther processs always results from absorption, that is, the irreversible conversion of the ab- sorbed radiation into some other form of energy

A substance which absorbs energy may also be

a medium of reflection, refraction, diffraction,

or scattering ; these processes, however, involve no energy retention or transformation and are

to be clearly differentiated from absorption.

See attenuation.

  • 2. In general, the taking up or assimilation of

one substance by another, where the two sub- stances chemically or physically combine.



coefficient 1. A measure



amount of normally incident radiant energy

absorbed through a unit distance or by a mass

of absorbing medium.


  • 2. For dissolved gases: Maximum volume of gas that can be dissolved in a unit volume of

water. The absorption coefficient of gases gen-

erally decreases with increasing temperature and


absorption factor See absorptivity.

absorption lossThat part of the transmission

loss which is due to dissipation or the conversion of sound energy into some other form of energy, usually heat. This conversion may take place

within the medium itself or upon a reflection at

one of its boundaries. (3)

absorptivity(also called absorption factor). A measure of the amount of radiant energy ab- sorbed by a given substance of definite dimen-

sions ; defined as the ratio of the amount of ra-

diant energy absorbed to the total amount inci-

dent upon that substance.


abyssA particularly deep part of the ocean, or

any part below 300 fathoms. (68) abyssal(or dbyssohenthic) . Pertaining to the great depths of the ocean, generally below 2,000

fathoms (3,700 meters).

{See figure for clas-

sification of marine environments.)

abyssalbenthicAccording to some authorities

corresponding to the approximate lower half of

the bathyal and all of the abyssal and hadal. See classification of marine environments.

Pertaining to a deep sea zone extending below

400 to 600 fathoms (800 to 1,100 meters) and

comprising all of the deep sea benthic system

below the archibenthic zone.

abyssal gapThis term is not recommended by

ACUF. ^S'eegap.

within and according to the nature of the ab-

abyssal hillThis term is not recommended by

sorbing medium. The absorbing medium itself


^ee knoll.

may emit radiation, but only after an energy

abyssal plainThis term is not recommended by

conversion has occurred.


^ee plain.


abyssobenthic See abyssal.

abyssopelagicPertaining to tliat portion of the

ocean which lies below depths of 2,000 fathoms

(3,700 meters).

{See figure for classification

of marine environments.)

accelerationThe rate of change with time of

speed and/or velocity ; strictly, the rate of change

with time of the velocity of a particle.


In the cgs system of physical measurements, it

is expressed in terms of centimeters per second

per second.

See gal.


acceleration of gravityThe acceleration of a

freely falling body due to the gravitational at- traction of the earth. Its true value varies with

latitude, altitude, and the nature of the under- lying rocks.

accelerometerA device which measures the

forces of acceleration acting on a body within

the instrument.

Among many uses it can be

used to measure wave effect on a ship at sea.

accepted depth (sometimes called observed depth) . The best possible determination of the

true depth of each Nansen bottle at the time of



accretion 1. Natural accretion is the gradual

build-up of land over a long period of time

solely by the action of the forces of nature, on a beach by deposition of water or airborne ma-


Artificial accretion is a similar build-up

of land by reason of an act of man, such as the

accretion formed by a groin, breakwater, or

beach fill deposited by mechanical means. (61) See aggradation.

2. The process by which inorganic masses

grow larger, by the addition of fresh particles to

the outside.


accretionary limestoneA limestone which has

formed in situ by slow accumulation of organic

remains such as coral or shells.


See bio-

strome, bioherm, organic reef.

accumulationIn glaciology, the quantity of snow or other solid form of water added to a

glacier or snowfield by alimentation; the op- posite of ablation. (5)

accuracyThe degree of conformity with a stand-

ard. Accuracy relates to the quality of a result, and is distinguished from precision which re- lates to the quality of the operation by which the

result is obtained.


acicular ice(also called fibrous ice, satin ice).

Fresh water ice consisting of numerous long

crystals and hollow tubes having variable form, layered arrangement, and a content of air bub-


This ice often forms at the bottom of an

ice layer near its contact with water.


acid rockIgneous rock containing a high pro-

portion of silica, contrasted with basic rock in a

two-division classification of rocks.


aclinic line(or dip equator, magnetic equator). The line through those points on the earth's sur-

face at which the magnetic inclination is zero.

The aclinic line is a particular case of an iso-

clinic line. In South America the aclinic line lies at about

15° S; while from central Africa to about Viet-

nam it coincides approximately with the parallel



acorn barnacle(or rock barnacle). A barna-

cle (Blanidae)

whose shell

is attached


cemented directly to a firm surface.

acoustic, acousticalThese two qualifying ad- jectives can be confused and, in fact, are often misused. The qualifying adjective acoustic is

used when the term which it modifies desig-

nates something which has the properties,

dimensions, or physical characteristics, asso-

ciated with sound waves. The adjective acousti-

cal, on the other hand, is used when the term being qualified does not innately contain some property, dimension, or physical characteristic which is intimately associated with sound.

Thus, we speak of an acoustic impedance, but

we speak of the Acoustical Society of America.


acoustic bearing See sonic bearing.


dispersion1. The scattering


spreading of sound with frequency. 2. The separation of a complex sound wave

into its various frequency components, usually caused by a variation with frequency of the

wave velocity

of the medium.

The rate of

change of the velocity with frequency is used as

a measure of the dispersion.


acoustic impedanceFor a given surface area of

an acoustic medium perpendicular, at every





of propagation


sinusoidal acoustic waves of given frequency,

and having equal acoustic pressures and equal

volume velocities per unit area at every point

of the surface at any

instant, the acoustic

impedance is the quotient obtained by dividing

(1) the phasor corresponding to the acoustic pressure by (2) the phasor corresponding to

the volume velocity.


acoustic intensityThe limit approached by the quotient obtained by dividing the power of the

acoustic energy being transmitted at a given

time through a given area by the magnitude of this area as the magnitude of this area ap-

proaches zero.

pC where intensity, /, in root mean square pressure,

P, of a plane wave, p is the density, and c the

sound velocity.

Units are energy per square

centimeter per second.


acoustic pressureThe difference at a point be-

tween the instantaneous sound pressure and the

hydrostatic pressure.

acousticsThe science of sound, including its

production, transmission, and effects.


acoustic scatteringThe irregular reflection,

refraction, or diffraction of a sound in many



acoustic screenA blanket of air bubbles that eri'ectively entraps backscattered sound energy.

acoustic signatureThe graphic noise output

characteristic of and identified with a specific

noise source, for example, the noise output of a particular class of submarine.

acoustic sounding

tSee echo sounding.

acoustic wave See sound wave. acre-footThe volume of \Yater required to cover

one acre to a depth of one foot, hence 43,560 cubic feet ; a convenient unit for measuring irrigation water, runoff volume, and reservoir capacity.

actinometryThe science of measurement of

radiant energy, particularly that of the sun,

in its thennal, chemical (actinic), and luminous



actinotrochaThe planktonic larva of the bottom

dwelling worm Phoroms.

activated waterA transient chemically reactive

state created in water by absorbed ionizing radia-

tions. The passage of ionizing radiation

through water produces, temporarily, ions, atoms, radicals, or molecules in a chemically

reactive state.

The combined effect of all such

entities is said to be due to activated water. Their identity has not been established with cer-

tainty, although evidence exists of the presence

of free hydroxyl radicals and hydrogen atoms.


activationThe process of inducing radioactiv-

ity through neutron bombardment or by other

types of irradiation. (41

activation analysisA method of elemental

analysis, especially for small traces of material, based on the detection of characteristic radio-

nuclides following a nuclear bombardment.


active glacierA glacier which has an accumu-

lation area, in contrast to a stagnant glacier.

An acti^'e glacier need not have an advancing



active materialFissionable material, such as

plutonium, uranium enriched in the isotope 233

or 235, and any other material capable of releas-

ing substantial quantities of atomic energy. In

the military field of atomic energy, the term refers to the nuclear components of nuclear

weapons exclusive of the natural uranium parts;

or, in the field of nuclear power, it refers to the

nuclear fuel in atomic reactors.


active sonarThe method or equipment by which

information concerning a distant object is ob-

tained through evaluation of the sound signal

reflected from the object to the generatmg

equipment. <S'ee passive sonar.

activity1. The number of atoms decaying per

unit of time.

The unit of activity is the curie,

3.7 X 10" disintegrations per second.


  • 2. A measure of the intensity of emission from a radioactive substance in terms of ob-

servable efl'ects, often expressed in counts per

unit of time.


  • 3. A term frequently used to designate a par-

ticular radioactive nuclide. (41)

  • 4. A term frequently used to designate a par-

ticular radiation component, for example, the

gamma activity of a source.

( 41

  • 5. A term commonly used for radioactivity.


  • 6. In practice, activity is often expressed in

terms of observable effects, such as counts per

minute or roentgens per hour at one meter.


  • 7. Chemical activity of dissolution of salts.

adfreezingThe process by which one object be-

comes adhered to another by the binding action

of ice.



adiabatic phenomenaThose phenomena which

occur without a gain or loss of heat.

adiabatic processA thermodynamic change of

state of a system in which there is no transfer of

heat or mass across the boundaries of the system. In an adiabatic process, compression always

results in warming, expansion in cooling.


adiabatic temperature changes^

^The compres-

sion of a fluid without gain or loss of heat to the

surroundings is work performed on the system

and produces a rise or fall of temperature. Such

a rise or fall of temperature occurs with chang-

ing depth.

adjacent seas See marginal seas.

adriftFloating without moorings or anchor:

drifting at the mercy of the sea and weather.

See stopped.

adsorptionThe adhesion of a thin film of liquid

or gas to a solid substance.

The solid does not

chemically combine with the adsorbed sub-



advance (of a shoreline) 1. A continuing sea-

ward movement of the shoreline.

  • 2. A net seaward movement of the shoreline

over a specified time.



1. In oceanography, advection refers

to the horizontal or vertical flow of sea water as

a current.

  • 2. The process of ti'ansport of an atmospheric

property solely by the mass motion (velocity

field) of the atmosphere.

In meteorology, ad-

vection describes the predominantly hori-

zontal, large-scale motions of the atmosphere.

advection fog1. A type of fog caused by the

advection of moist air over a cold surface, and

the consequent cooling of that air to below its

dew point.

A very common advection fog is that caused

by moist air in transport over a cold body of water (sea fog).

  • 2. Sometimes applied to steam fog.


aeolian sands See eolian sands.


aerobe (also called aerotiont). An organism

which can live and grow only in the presence of

oxygen. An organism which employs aerobic


aerobiont See aerobe.

A-frameA steel frame used for outboard sus-

pension of oceanographic gear in shipboard sur-

vey work, so named because of its A-shape.

afternoon effect

^The solar heating of the surface

water, which causes a shallow negative tempera-

and Bottom Water (South Atlantic), less than

350 years.

Another method for determining the age of

water makes use of the depletion rate of dis-

solved oxygen. This method assumes that the

water was saturated with oxygen while at the

surface and that its oxygen was consumed at a

fixed rate by chemical combination with detritus.


agger See double tide.

ture gradient.

The net result is downward

agglomerate see breccia.

refraction of sound rays and reduction in near-

aggradationThe process of building up a sur-

surface ranges.

face by continuous or intermittent deposition.

aftershockAn earthquake which follows a

larger earthquake and originates at or near the focus of the larger earthquake. ( 2

age 1. See age of phase inequality.

2. The stage of development of sea ice.


term usually refers to the length of time since its

formation and to its thickness.

age datingThe calculation of the absolute age of a material by such means as the fossil record or by radioactive determination of the number of atoms of a stable radiogenic end product rela- tive to the nimiber of atoms of its radioactive parent.

age of diurnal inequality(or age of diurnal

tide). The time interval between the maximum

semimonthly north or south declination of the

moon and the maximum effect of the declination upon the range of tide or speed of the tidal



age of diurnal tide See age of diurnal inequal-


age of moonThe time elapsed since the preced-

ing new moon.

( 50)

age of parallax inequalityThe time interval

between the perigee of the moon and the maxi-

mum effect of the parallax

(distance of the

moon) upon the range of tide or speed of tidal



age of phase inequality(or age, age of tide).

The time interval between the new or full moon

and the maximum effect of these phases upon the

range of tide or speed of tidal current.


age of tide See age of phase inequality.

age of waterThe time elapsed since a water mass

was last at the surface and in contact with the

atmosphere. The water's age gives an indica- tion of the rate of overturn of ocean water, an

important factor in the use of the oceans for

dumping radioactive wastes and determining

the rate of replenishment of nutrients.

The most commonly used method for deter-

mining the age of water involves the decay

rate of carbon" whose half-life is 5,600 years.

This method gives the following approximate

ages to an accuracy of

±100 years: North

Atlantic Central Water, 600 years.; North At-

lantic Bottom Water, 900 years; North Atlantic Deep Water, 700 years ; Antarctic Intermediate

aggregate sample—iS^ee compound sample.

agonic lineThe line through all points on the

earth's surface at which the magnetic declina- tion is zero; that is, the locus of all points at

which magnetic north and true north coincide.

This line is a particular case of an isogonic line.

The position of this line exhibits variations in



agua enferma See aguaje.

aguaje(also called salgaso, aqua enferma) . An

annual condition noted in the coastal water of

Peru which results in discolored water (usually

red or yellow) and various degrees of destruc-

tion of marine life. Aguaje usually occurs

from April through June and is a local term

used along certain portions of the Peruvian coast. The immediate cause of this condition is

the increase in water temperature when warmer

oceanic currents are carried inshore. Marine

organisms unaccustomed to warm water die and

decompose. Coincidentally large concentra- tions of dinoflagellates form discolored water

patches. Dinoflagellates, in turn may destroy

marine organisms, possibly due to toxins they contain. This is not the same as the massively

catastrophic condition associated with El Niiio

which occurs approximately every seven years.

Agulhas Current(sometimes called Agulhas


A fast current flowing southwest-

ward along the southeast coast of Africa.

Throughout the year, part of the South

Equatorial Current turns south along the east

coast of Africa and feeds the strong Agulhas

Current. To the south of 30°S the Agulhas

Current is a narrow, well-defined current that

extends less than 100 kilometers from the coast south of 35°S a major portion of the current turns counterclockwise and joins the prevailing

eastward flow across the southern part of the

Indian Ocean. However, a small portion of the

Agulhas Current rounds the Cape of Good Hope

into the Atlantic Ocean.

Agulhas Stream See Agulhas Current.

aid to navigation 1. A device external to a boat

or ship designed to assist in determination of

position, a safe course, or to warn of dangers.

Examples are: lighthouses, lights, buoys, day-

beacons, radio beacons, and electronic devices.



2. The expression "aid to navigation" should not be confused witli "navigational aid," a bi'oad expression covering any instrument, device,

chart, metliod, etc. intended to assist in the navi-

gation of a craft.


air bladder(also called stoini hladder, gas tlad-

der) . A membranous sac of atmospheric gases

lying in tlie body cavity between the vertebral

column and the

alimentary tract of certain

fishes. It serves a hydrostatic function in most fishes that possess it ; in some it participates in sound production.

airborne expendable bathythermograph

buoyant canister which is ejected into the water

from an aircraft to provide measurements of

water temperature with depth. The tempera- ture information is transmitted to the aircraft. Tlie instnunent is designed to measure the tem- perature from the surface to 1,000 feet with an

accuracy of ±5 percent in depth and a tempera-

ture accuracy of ±0.5°F within the range of 28° to 90°F.

airborne oceanographyThe