Going With the Flow

    Located between the western part of the Atlantic Ocean and between Cuba and South America, exists the Caribbean Sea. These world famous waters are named after the Carib Indians who first inhabited the area when it was discovered by Spanish explorers at the end of the 15th century. Those explorers, as well as consequent immigrants from Africa and other far away lands, had the strong force of the ocean to thank for leading them to this area of the world. This force, or current, is how many of the early navigators first explored the world. Today, currents are responsible for keeping the circulation of the ocean in check by transferring nutrients and heat, in the same way a living organism's circulatory system transports vital matter.

    Ocean water moves in giant streams called currents. In the Northern Hemisphere the currents run clockwise, while in the Southern Hemisphere, they run counter clockwise. Likewise, currents on the West Coast are cold, while those on the East Coast are warm. These currents are powered by the sun and winds and are responsible for delivering heat from the tropics to polar regions, affecting the weather and climate of the world. At the same time, currents are responsible for distributing nutrients throughout the ocean.

    There are two types of currents: surface and deep. Surface currents are affected by global wind patterns; hurricanes and tropical storms tend to have an important affect on the speed of these currents. Deep currents move much more slowly and are affected by gravity and density of water. About 10% of the water in the world's oceans are involved in surface currents, which are responsible for distributing tropical heat worldwide. In unison, surface and deep currents comprise what are known as boundary currents.

    On the East Coast, there are five large western boundary currents, the largest being the Gulf Stream. The name of this current originates from the early belief that the current began in the Gulf of Mexico from the Mississippi River. In actuality, it is the currents off of Northern Belize and up through the Yucatan Strait that are responsible for the origin of the Gulf Stream. The powerful currents of the Gulf Stream can move water at a rate of more than 100 miles a day! Eastern boundary currents, on the other hand, are very slow and only move about ten miles a day.

Reef Brief is a weekly column published in the San Pedro Sun
    Currents are of great importance to ocean circulation in that they influence weather and climate, while distributing nutrients and scattering organisms. Many northern regions would be inhabitable to humans if it were not for the transfer of heat from tropical water via the Gulf Stream. At the same time, many areas of the world, such as South America, are dependent on the biological productivity that results from the distribution of nutrients and organisms by way of currents. Lastly, currents are responsible for the early spread of civilization to many remote islands and land masses, which Ambergris Caye and Belize were once considered. On the down side, currents carry most of the trash that travels here too.

Back to Reef Briefs Main page

If you have a topic you would like featured in Reef Brief, or would just like to help us, please call 2833, or E-mail: - greenreef@btl.net.

Commons Island Community History Visitor Center Goods & Services
Search Messages CIG Info

Copyright by Casado Internet Group, Belize