By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover: Visitor Services Manager
The Fountain of Youth and Life
When Ponce de León was looking for the fountain of youth in 1513, he found something just as exciting and beneficial to humankind. He discovered “a current such that, although it had great wind, they could not proceed forward…the current was more powerful than the wind.” It was the Gulf Stream.
Later explorers Peter d’Anghiera and Sir Humphrey Gilbert took note of it also. Hernando Cortez and Anton de Alaminos convinced other Spaniards to use the strong current to propel them north before they turned eastward to Europe.
Benjamin Franklin published the first map of the Gulf Stream in 1770. Seeing the current as a way to speed-up commerce between the colonies, he pushed the British to use the speed of the Gulf Stream. When they finally did take his advice, they shaved two weeks off the cross Atlantic trip. During the colonial period, the Gulf Stream was extremely beneficial and influenced where the largest cities and ports grew.
The Gulf Stream originates in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and then begins at the tip of Florida and winds along the coastline of the eastern United States to Newfoundland. There it divides, and forms the North Atlantic Current as it travels to Europe. Scientists believe that the current keeps coastal countries of Europe and North America warmer than they would be ordinarily.
Driven by wind stress, the Gulf Stream could almost be described as a powerful river within the ocean. It is forty to sixty miles wide and averaged 3,900 feet deep. Moving an average of five miles per hour, it hugs the coastline of the United States. Off Florida, the temperature is seventy-five degrees, but as it goes north to Newfoundland it cools to sixty-four degrees.
From coastal North Carolina, the fishing fleets head-out into the warm waters of the Gulf Stream which produce some of the best deep sea fishing in the world. Species that would not be there if the water were not so warm become the prizes of the anglers. When the boats reach the Gulf Stream, the color of the water changes to a deep, crystal clear blue through which the sea life can be clearly seen.
Hurricane watchers know that the warm waters of the Gulf Stream help to form and strengthen storms that approach the coast. Many of them that have weakened sometimes gain power in the stream and reform into even more powerful storms.
Endurance swimmer Diana Nyad recently reached her goal of swimming from Cuba to Florida on her fifth attempt at age sixty-four. She covered 110 miles in fifty-three hours. “The Gulf Stream was my friend, and usually it’s not,” she said. “Usually you’re out there going in circles…this time the Gulf Stream went north, right where I was going.”
And so, Nyad became one of the many adventurers helped by a force of nature, the Gulf Stream.Source (staff.orecity.k12.or.us)