Satellite reveals stylish ocean current
The ocean, it turns out, isn't so different from your jacket. It has a stylish, herringbone pattern of currents that's so subtle nobody noticed before.
The currents run east and west, 90 miles wide before they switch directions, across virtually every ocean in the world, according to a somewhat stunned oceanographic research team that thought it was studying buoy movements. They are so slight — about .02 mph — that "only a very lazy canoeist would notice," said Nikolai Maximenko of the University of Hawaii.
"Their existence is so surprising that we had to prove first that they are not an artifact (artificial creation) of satellite data," he said. The currents run right down to the ocean floor, and where they change directions, temperatures change.
Two millennia of sea voyages and who'd have thought it? Mark Marhefka, a snapper-grouper fisherman who operates out of Shem Creek, hadn't picked up on the currents despite years afloat. He'd like to know if they were always there or something new.
"What we're seeing, more so than we have in a long time, is really cold water in the wintertime and then very hot water in the summer," he said. And with that, more feed — smaller invertebrates like jellyfish — that bigger creatures eat.
The currents are much smaller than the widely studied ocean counter currents. But in a time of climate warming, they could count for a lot.
"There's so much we don't know out there," said Leslie Sautter, of College of Charleston geology professor and director of Project Oceanica, which educates about oceanographic research. Any discovery about ocean circulation can teach something more about climate, because those currents help shape climate.
"Anything we can learn about it can open up a window to predict, or at least to see what's going on," she said.