this short but fascinating piece from Robert Krulwich over at NPR, and what a lot of contemplation one or two amazing pictures can inspire.
The article focuses on NASA’s pictures of the effect of wind on our world’s oceans, gulfs and seas and what amazing – if not all together surprising – discoveries they reveal. From the article:
Most of the surface currents in the ocean are shaped by wind. In this visualization from the folks at NASA, the ocean is rich with lazy spirals that move in great circular sweeps (called “gyres”) clockwise in the northern hemisphere, counterclockwise in the south.
Krulwich goes on to comment on the embedded video:
I like watching the Gulf Stream roar past the tip of Florida… all white and purposeful, heading up the North American coast… Then there’s the equator, which in this version seems almost wall-like.
NASA has confirmed through high tech photography what sailors have always known: the wind works the ocean. How many ships has that eponymously named Stream carried, almost effortlessly, from the Gulf of Mexico across the Atlantic to Europe? How many ships have found themselves confounded in the hot, fresh-waterless dead calm of the equator? A new face upon old wisdom confirms what the sons and the daughters of Neptune never doubted.
Krulwich ends on what he must imagine is a sad note, and it is on several levels, discussing the so called Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This is a rotating, slightly submerged cluster of man-made castoffs located between California and Hawai’i. His final sentence sums up his opinion:
And what does it say about us that our first human mark is a splat that feels like we’ve dropped some mud onto a van Gogh painting?
While the point is illustrative, I would argue that it diminishes out brave, capable, seafaring ancestors. Our first human mark on the world’s oceans was not garbage, but discovery through the birth of a floating, sustainable world that could lose sight of land and then find it again. Phoenician ships, Norse longboats, Polynesian outriggers, Inupiat kayaks; the list goes on and on. While we surely need to clean up our messes – for all our sakes – let us not forget what we have done and continue to do well: respect the ocean and the wind.
Click over and watch the video when you have a moment. It truly is breathtaking.
Header: Ocean “gyres” via NASA and NPR