Gulf Stream

Gulf Stream

The Gulf Stream, together with its northern extension towards Europe, the North Atlantic Drift, is a powerful, warm, and swift Atlantic ocean current that originates in the Gulf of Mexico, exits through the Strait of Florida, and follows the eastern coastlines of the United States and Newfoundland before crossing the Atlantic Ocean. At about 30°W, 40°N, it splits in two, with the northern stream crossing to northern Europe and the southern stream recirculating off West Africa. It is part of the North Atlantic Subtropical Gyre. The Gulf Stream influences the climate of the east coast of North America from Florida to Newfoundland, and the west coast of Europe. Its presence has led to the development of strong cyclones of all types, both within the atmosphere and within the ocean. The Gulf Stream is also a significant potential source of renewable power generation.

Discovery and properties

European discovery of the Gulf Stream dates to the 1513 expedition of Juan Ponce de León, after which it became widely used by Spanish ships sailing from the Caribbean to Spain. [cite book |last= Fernandez-Armesto |first= Felipe |title= Pathfinders: A Global History of Exploration |year= 2006 |publisher= W.W. Norton & Company |isbn= 0-393-06259-7 |pages= p. 194] In 1786 Benjamin Franklin studied and mapped the current in detail. [ [ 1785: Benjamin Franklin's "Sundry Maritime Observations"] , NOAA Ocean Explorer] The Gulf Stream proper is a western-intensified current, largely driven by wind stress. [cite journal |last=Wunsch |first=Carl |title=What Is the Thermohaline Circulation? |journal=Science |date=November 8, 2002 |pages=1179–1181 |doi=10.1126/science.1079329 |volume=298 |issue=5596 |url= |pmid=12424356 (see also [ Rahmstorf] .)] The North Atlantic Drift, in contrast, is largely thermohaline circulation driven. By carrying warm water northeast across the Atlantic, it makes Western Europe (and especially Northern Europe) warmer than they otherwise would be. However, the extent of its contribution to the actual temperature differential between North America and Europe is a matter of dispute.cite journal |last=Seager |first=Richard |title=The Source of Europe's Mild Climate |journal=American Scientist Online |date=July–August, 2006 |url=|accessdate=2008-09-23 ]


A river of sea water, called the Atlantic North Equatorial Current, flows westward off the coast of northern Africa. When this current interacts with the northeastern coast of South America, the current forks into two branches. One passes into the Caribbean Sea, while a second, the Antilles Current, flows north and east of the West Indies. These two branches rejoin north of the Straits of Florida, as shown on the accompanying map.

Consequently, the resulting Gulf Stream is a strong ocean current. It transports water at a rate of 30 million cubic meters per second (30 sverdrups) through the Florida Straits. After it passes Cape Hatteras, this rate increases to 80 million cubic meters per second. The volume of the Gulf Stream dwarfs all rivers that empty into the Atlantic combined, which barely total 0.6 million cubic meters per second. It is weaker, however, than the Antarctic Circumpolar Current.

Typically, the Gulf Stream is convert|80|km|mi to convert|150|km|mi wide and convert|800|m|ft to convert|1200|m|ft deep. The current velocity is fastest near the surface, with the maximum speed typically about convert|2.5|m/s|mph. [cite web |last=Phillips |first=Pamela |title=The Gulf Stream |url= |publisher=USNA/Johns Hopkins |accessdate=2007-08-02 ]

As it travels north, the warm water transported by the Gulf Stream undergoes evaporative cooling and brine exclusion. The cooling is wind driven: wind moving over the water cools it and also causes evaporation, leaving a saltier brine. In this process, the water increases in salinity and density, and decreases in temperature. These two processes produce water that is denser and colder (or, more precisely, water that is still liquid at a lower temperature). In the North Atlantic Ocean, the water becomes so dense that it begins to sink down through less salty and less dense water. (The convective action is not unlike that of a lava lamp.) This downdraft of heavy, cold and dense water becomes a part of the North Atlantic Deep Water, a southgoing stream.

Localized effects

The Gulf Stream is influential on the climate of the Florida peninsula, as east winds during most months of the year move warmer air from over the Gulf Stream inland, [National Climatic Data Center. [ Climatic Wind Data for the United States.] Retrieved on 2007-06-02.] helping to keep temperatures milder across the state than elsewhere across the Southeast during the winter. The Gulf Stream makes the climate of offshore islands of Massachusetts, Martha's Vineyard, and Nantucket milder than that of Massachusetts Bay, which is isolated from Gulf Stream effects by Cape Cod. [cite web|author=Captain John Lacouture|title=The Gulf Stream Charts of Benjamin Franklin and Timothy Folger|year=1995|publisher=Nantucket Historical Society|accessdate=2008-09-10|url=]

The North Atlantic Current of the Gulf Stream, along with similar warm air currents, helps keep Ireland and the western coast of Great Britain a couple of degrees warmer than the east. However the difference is most dramatic in the western coastal islands of Scotland. [cite web|author=|title=Satellites Record Weakening North Atlantic Current Impact |publisher=NASA|accessdate=2008-09-10|url=] Parts of Ireland and the west coast of Scotland have a mild enough climate to support palm-like cabbage trees even though they are a degree further north than Moscow. [cite web |title="Cordyline australis" Cabbage Palm |work=The Garden Flora of Northern Ireland |url=|accessdate=2007-07-20 ]

The most spectacular effect of the Gulf Stream and the strong westerly winds (driven by the warm water of the Gulf Stream) on Europe occurs along the Norwegian coast. [cite web|author=Barbie Bischof, Arthur J. Mariano, Edward H. Ryan|title=The North Atlantic Drift Current|year=2003|publisher=The National Oceanographic Partnership Program|accessdate=2008-09-10|url=] Northern parts of Norway lie close to the Arctic zone, most of which is covered with ice and snow in winter. However, almost all of Norway's coast remains free of ice and snow throughout the year.cite book|author=Erik A. Rasmussen, John Turner|title=Polar Lows|year=2003|publisher=Cambridge University Press|page=p. 68|accessdate=2008-09-10]

Effect on cyclone formation

The warm water and temperature contrast along the edge of the Gulf Stream often increases the intensity of cyclones, tropical or otherwise. Tropical cyclone generation normally requires water temperatures in excess of convert|26.5|C|F. cite web | author = Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory, Hurricane Research Division | title = Frequently Asked Questions: How do tropical cyclones form? | publisher = NOAA | accessdate = 2006-07-26 | url =] Tropical cyclone formation is common over the Gulf Stream, especially in the month of July. Storms travel westward through the Caribbean and then, either move in a northerly direction and curve towards the eastern coast of the United States, or stay on a north-westward track and enter the Gulf of Mexico.National Hurricane Center. [ Atlantic Hurricane Database.] Retrieved on 2008-06-10.] Such storms have the potential to create strong winds and extensive damage to the United States' Southeast Coastal Areas. Strong extratropical cyclones have been shown to deepen significantly along a shallow frontal zone, forced by the Gulf Stream itself during the cold season. [S. Businger, T. M. Graziano, M. L. Kaplan, and R. A. Rozumalski. [ Cold-air cyclogenesis along the Gulf-Stream front: investigation of diabatic impacts on cyclone development, frontal structure, and track.] Retrieved on 2008-09-21.] Subtropical cyclones also tend to generate near the Gulf Stream. 75 percent of such systems documented between 1951 and 2000, formed near this warm water current, with two annual peaks of activity occuring during the months of May and October. [David M. Roth. [ P 1.43 A FIFTY YEAR HISTORY OF SUBTROPICAL CYCLONES.] Retrieved on 208-09-21.] Cyclones within the ocean form under the Gulf Stream, extending as deep as convert|3500|m|ft beneath the ocean's surface. [D. K. Savidge and J. M. Bane. [ Cyclogenesis in the deep ocean beneath the Gulf Stream. 1. Description.] Retrieved on 2008-09-21.]

Possible renewable power source

The Gulf Stream transports about 1.4 petawatts of heat, equivalent to 100 times the world energy demand.cite news |last=Leake |first=Jonathan |title=Scientists probing a dying current bring worst climate fears to the surface |publisher=The Australian |url=,5744,17457834%255E30417,00.html |date=December 5, 2005 (Web archive)] and research is underway to tap this power in a couple different ways. One idea, which would supply the power of several nuclear power plants, is to deploy a field of underwater turbines placed convert|1000|ft|m under the center of the core of the Gulf Stream. Ocean thermal energy could also be harnessed to produce electricity, utilizing the temperature difference between cold deep water and warm surface water. [Jeremy Elton Jacquot. [ Gulf Stream's Tidal Energy Could Provide Up to a Third of Florida's Power.] Retrieved on 2008-09-21.]

ee also

*Global warming
*Jet stream
*Ocean current
*Western boundary current


* [ Corona Magazine Issue 124: Science] (German, Transported amount of power)
*cite web |author=Barbie Bischof, Arthur J. Mariano, Edward H. Ryan |title=The North Atlantic Drift Current |date=2003 |work=Ocean Surface Currents |publisher=The Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science |url= |accessdate=2007-08-02
*cite news |title=Could the Atlantic Current Switch Off? |date=September 30, 2005 |publisher=National Oceanography Centre, Southampton |url= |accessdate=2007-08-02
*cite journal |author=Hátún "et al." |title=Influence of the Atlantic Subpolar Gyre on the Thermohaline Circulation |journal=Science |date=September 16, 2005 |volume=309 |issue=5742 |pages=1841–1844 |url= |doi=10.1126/science.1114777 |accessdate=2007-08-02 |pmid=16166513 (Increased temperature and salinity in the Nordic Seas.)


External links

* [ Western Boundary Currents] - Description of the gulf stream as a western boundary current

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