What is a Sverdrup?

Harald Ulrik Sverdrup
Harald Ulrik Sverdrup (1888-1957)

As revealed in our explanation about the Gulf Stream, the Sverdrup is used to measure a massive volume of water. Usually used by oceanographers, a Sverdrup measures one million cubic meters (106 m3) of water per second. So, 1 Sv = 1 x 106 m3/s.

Named for the Norwegian oceanographer Harald Ulrik Sverdrup, the Sv offers a plethora of confusion for the layperson. Not only is the formula difficult for many people to comprehend given the huge volume of water that is being measured, but you must be sure you’re talking about the proper Sv. The International System of Units (SI) abbreviates a sievert as Sv, too. Though a sievert (a measurement of ionizing radiation) is much different from a Sverdrup, both use the symbol Sv for their equations and measurements. Given the larger number of people working in oncology and not oceanography, the more common usage of Sv is to indicate a sievert. However, when used to discuss aquatic topics, a Sv measures the movement of one million cubic meters of water per second.