A massive current off
Charleston's coast is changing

— Special Report —

The Gulf Stream flowing just off the Carolina coast is one of the fastest ocean currents in the world, a giant conveyor belt that moves vast amounts of heat north toward Europe. This current affects everything from sea levels around Charleston to the weather in Scandinavia and United Kingdom. But new studies show it's slowing down, likely because of global warming, and that has major implications.

Into the Gulf Stream

How could the Gulf Stream affect oil spills?

Computer-generated simulations show oil spills off the southeast coast could travel fast in the Gulf Stream or hit beaches depending on spill sites.

What areas are vulnerable to a potential oil spill in the Gulf Stream?

This composite of simulations shows which beaches are most vulnerable and how some slicks quickly get swept up in the Gulf Stream. 

Days in the Gulf Stream: A coloring book

Color your way on a journey with six explorers as they drift in the Gulf Stream, one of the mightiest currents on Earth. Download it here.




    It's one of the most important currents on earth, a highway for marine life and a massive conveyor of belt of heat. What's happening to it affects people in South Carolina and across the world.

    This project is based on more than 30 interviews with scientists across the world and supplemented by research papers, documents generated by the Ben Franklin expedition, historical accounts and computer simulations on an open-source program developed by NOAA.

    Gene Feldman, a NASA oceanographer inspired by the Ben Franklin drift mission, shared a storehouse of photos and documents he’s assembled over the years. From his home in Florida, Don Kazimir showed us logs and other primary sources. Some descriptions of the mission come from Jacques Piccard’s book, “The Sun Beneath the Sea.” Others were inspired by Hans Leip’s 1957 book about the Gulf Stream, “River in the Sea” and Stan Ulanski’s 2008 book, “The Gulf Stream.”

    In addition to Harry L. Bryden, William Johns and Tom Rossby, other leading Gulf Stream scientists consulted include: Susan Lozier of Duke University, Robert Todd of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Tal Ezer of Old Dominion University, Vincent Saba, a NOAA research fishery biologist at Princeton University, William Sweet, a NOAA oceanographer in Florida and Dana Savidge of University of Georgia's Skidaway Institute of Oceanography.

    Matthew Upton, president of Roffer’s Ocean Fishing Forecasting Service, and Jenifer Clark, a professional meteorologist known as the “Gulfstream Lady,” also provided key insights. Doug Helton, NOAA Emergency Response Division, pointed us toward oil spill response simulations for old shipwrecks.

    And the Hurricane Fleet in Calabash, N.C., took us into the Gulf Stream itself.