NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center is an unlikely entrant in the SIGGRAPH Computer Animation Festival. Its “Perpetual World” animation may have failed to appeal to the judging committee of the 2011 edition of the competition, but it sure succeeded in catching our eye. The jaw-dropping animation visualizes the flow of surface ocean currents around the world. The raw data regarding the currents from June 2005 through to December 2007 has been turned into a work of art reminiscent of van Gogh.

The data used to present the hypnotizing swirls in the video below comes from NASA’s ECCO2 model. Short for “Estimating the Circulation and Climate of the Ocean, Phase II," the ECCO2 project sets out to investigate the role the ocean might play in different future climate scenarios.

However, learning to predict possible climate outcomes on the basis of both observed and modeled behavior of the different factors that make up the ocean ecosystem is by no means straightforward. ECCO2 manages this feat by matching data from MIT’s general circulation model with the available satellite data and readings from different sensors placed in the ocean around the globe.

The results are presented at a resolution high enough to enable studying ocean eddies and other narrow current systems, which are overlooked by lower-resolution models. These systems play a major role in transporting heat and carbon, and are therefore indispensable to understanding the ocean’s influence on climate.

While ECCO2 provides data on the ocean flows at all depths, only surface flows have been visualized. If the short edition of the animation embedded below is not enough, you may want to look at the longer version available on NASA’s website.