Sunday, September 13, 2009

Where is the Gulf Stream?

The Gulf Stream is in the Atlantic. It is warm ocean current which flows steadily from the Gulf of Mexico north-eastwards. One branch reaches the Canary Islands, turns southwards and moves back across the South Atlantic. The other branch flows past the western coasts of northern Europe.

This current, which is like a river in the sea, is 50 miles wide at its narrowest and nearly 2000 feet deep. It sweeps along with it many forms of warm water life from the tropics, but these die before they reach the European coasts where the warm water mixes with cold water moving down from the Arctic.

The Gulf Stream has a great effect on the weather of Britain and Norway. The prevailing south-westerly winds are warmed by it and collect moisture which turns into rain. In winter the warm water keeps open the cold northern ports, such as Hammerfest, in Norway, and Murmansk, in the Soviet Union, while harbours in the Baltic, many miles farther south, are blocked with ice. In summer it causes bright flowers to bloom on the west coast of Spitzbergen 500 miles north of Norway. In contrast, the east coast, cooled by Arctic water is bleak and colorless.

In 1912 the United States Congress was asked for money to build a jetty which it was thought would divert the Gulf Stream and make it flow up the east coast of the United States. Although this scheme was unlikely to be successful, it was just as well for Britain and Norway that is was never tried. Without the Gulf Stream, Britain's winters would be very much longer and colder and Norway's harbors, which are vital to the country, would be frozen over for many months.

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