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Swallow, John (Crossley)

deep interiors war currents

(1923–94) British physical oceanographer: discoverer of strong eddy fields in oceanic interiors.

Swallow was a student of physics at Cambridge when the Second World War interrupted his studies and naval service introduced him to the sea. Back at Cambridge after the war, lectures by inspired him to do his PhD in the Department of Geodesy and Geophysics, spending the early 1950s on the survey vessel HMS Challenger , studying deep ocean floors by seismic methods. From 1954 onwards he was with the Institute of Oceanographic Sciences and frequently at sea. To study undersea currents he devised the ‘Swallow float’, a neutrally buoyant float which would transmit information on current and temperature at varying depths and whose location could be tracked from a ship. (The first models were made of discarded builders’ aluminium scaffold poles.) The results confirmed theories due to H Stommel (1920–92) on deep currents in the Atlantic and revealed a quite unexpected and important feature of ocean interiors. This was the presence of strong eddy fields, rather akin to atmospheric weather systems. This discovery much changed ideas about deep seas generally.

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