Ocean and Atmosphere

These quotes address the great movements of water and atmosphere over the surface of our planet.



Observation of Tides on the Coast of America

"It is an interesting fact that the tides of our Atlantic coast, of parts of the Gulf of Mexico, and of the Western coast, are of three different types. Those of the Atlantic coast are of the ordinary type of tides -- twice in the twenty-four hours --having, however, a distinct, though small, difference in height and time between the morning and afternoon tides, known as the diurnal inequality. The Gulf tides are single-day tides, and, until the Coast Survey developments established the contrary, were believed to depend upon the winds which have the character of tradewinds, and, therefore, considerable regularity along that coast. The tides of our Pacific coast ebb and flow twice in the twenty-four hours, but with so large a diurnal inequality in height that the plane of reference of mean low water, commonly used on the charts, would, if employed, be a snare to navigators. A rock in San Francisco bay, which at one low water of the day might be covered to the depth of three and a half feet, might at the next be awash.”

In Report of the Superintendent of the Coast Survey for 1853 (1853) by A.D. Bache. p. 8-9.

Superintendent Bache took a particular interest in tidal phenomena and was quite proud to have determined the nature of tides on the Gulf of Mexico as prior to Coast Survey tidal observations, it was believed that tides in that area were strictly caused by the prevailing winds.


Charleston Bump, Cold Wall, and Other Gulf Stream Observations

In Appendix No. 47, Report of the Superintendent for 1854, Superintendent Alexander Bache describes recent findings concerning the Gulf Stream by Lieuts. J.N. Maffitt and T. A. M. Craven. Bache makes an assumption based on sparse sounding data that there is a:

Connection of the figure of the bototm of the sea with the distribution of temperature.

"The discovery that soundings could be carried nearly across the Charleston section of the Gulf Stream, and that after losing them on this section for a short distance they were reached beyond the axis of the stream, was communicated to the Association at the Cleveland meeting,... The connection between the figure of the bottom and the division of the stream, which the observations of these officers established as applicable to the sections south of Charleston, is illustrated in diagram No. 9, in which the curves of equal temperature , the depths corresponding to them, and the figure of the bottom, are given...."

"The bottom of the sea slopes gradually on this section for some fifty miles, reaching a depth of about twenty fathoms; then more rapidly to about sixty-five miles, and the depth of one hundred fathoms; and suddenly falling off to a depth greater than six hundred fathoms -- at about one hundred miles from the shore, where the depth is three hundred fathoms, a ridge, with a very steep slope on the inshore side, and a little less so to seaward, occurring fifteen hundred feet above the hollow to seaward of it, and distant about twelve miles from it. A second rise of five hundred feet, on a base of twelve miles, is followed by a depression of three hundred feet on a base of fifteen miles, and then by a gentle slope upward...."

"The close conformity of the curves of temperature to those of the bottom is obvious from an inspection of the diagram. The descent of the curve of 57o in the deepest part of the section is a remarkable feature, not obliterated in the curves above it, but reaching nearly to the surface. In the midst of general coincidences there is one discrepancy which indicates that there may be other causes which produce the distribution of temperature in warm and cold bands besides the figure of the bottom...."

The ‘Cold Wall. ’

"The lateral limits of the stream are more easily defined , especially in the northern sections, where the change is so sudden from the warm water of the Gulf to the cold stream inside of it towards the shore, that the cold stream was likened, by Lieut. Geo. M. Bache, to a ‘cold wall ’ confining the warm water...."

"In the cold water inshore from the Gulf Stream, Acting Master Jones, of Lieut. Maffitt’s party, found a current setting southward, as also in the cold band outside of the axis. These results, if shown to be permanent, will be in the highest degree important. As it is, the existence of them at any time shows the cause of many anomalies noticed by navigators in relation to the currents of the Gulf Stream....”

In “On the distribution of temperature in and near the Gulf Stream, off the coast of the United States, from observations made in the Coast Survey.” (1854) by A. D. Bache, Superintendent. Published in Report of the Superintendent of the Coast Survey for 1854. Appendix No. 47, pp. 156-161. A full discussion of this finding is also included on pp. 59-62.


Systematic Work and Ocean Discovery by the Coast Survey

"Undoubtedly, the early observations made upon the temperature of the ocean were defective, owing to the somewhat imperfect instruments at the disposal of the early explorers. Yet they determined the general position of the cold and warm currents of the ocean along our shores. The more systematic work of the officers of the Coast Survey first proved the existence of vast bodies of water, of considerable thickness, and of very different temperatures at corresponding depths, moving in opposite directions. It is to the Coast Survey that we owe the demonstration of the fact that the waters of the polar regions pour into the tropics along the bottom, just as the warmer equatorial waters flow across the temperate zones near the surface, and make their influence felt in the polar regions.”

In Three Cruises of the Blake (1888) by A. Agassiz. Volume I, p. 244.


The Grandeur of the Gulf Stream

"Man stands with bowed head in the presence of nature’s visible grandeurs, such as towering mountains, precipices, or icebergs, forests of immense trees, grand rivers, or waterfalls. He realizes the force of waves that can sweep away light-houses or toss an ocean steamer about like a cork. In a vessel floating on the Gulf Stream one sees nothing of the current and knows nothing but what experience tells him; but to be anchored in its depths far out of the sight of land, and to see the mighty torrent rushing past at a speed of miles per hour, day after day and day after day, one begins to think that all the wonders of the earth combined can not equal this one river in the ocean.”

In The Gulf Stream (1891) by J. E. Pillsbury, as quoted in Appendix 10 of "Report of the Superintendent of the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey for 1890", pp. 461-620.


El Nino Before Everyone Knew About El Nino

"This Humboldt Current, like the Gulf Stream, has a profound effect on the climate of the coasts it bathes. A few years ago it seemed to “disappear,” while Beebe was cruising in this very region. At least he did not find it where he expected. This phenomenon changed the climate of the coast of Peru in a remarkable way. Regions that had been without rain for centuries received such deluges that marking on ancient “adobe” buildings were obliterated. It was not our luck to stumble upon such an upset in the circulation of the Pacific. It is a great pity that such an interesting discovery as the Arcturus made was not followed up by careful oceanographic studies; for another opportunity may never be offered.”

In The Last Cruise of the Carnegie (1932) by J. H. Paul. Published by The Williams and Wilkins Co., Baltimore. p. 155.


The Need for Repeat and Continuous Observations

"The oceanographic station of September 23 was exceedingly interesting. We had occupied a station within fifteen miles of this spot only five days before, but changes had occurred in that short time. The temperature at the 200-meter depth had dropped about 6 degrees Fahrenheit, and the salinity had followed suit. The current had trebled during the same time interval. We realized as never before how important it is to make repeated observations in the same spot, preferably throughout the year, if we want a complete picture of conditions in the sea.”

In The Last Cruise of the Carnegie (1932) by J. H. Paul. Published by The Williams and Wilkins Co., Baltimore. p. 123.


The Oneness of the Ocean

"There is, then, no water that is wholly of the Pacific, or wholly of the Atlantic, or of the Indian or the Antarctic. The surf that we find exhilarating at Virginia Beach or at La Jolla today may have lapped at the base of antarctic icebergs or sparkled in the Mediterranean sun, years ago, before it moved through dark and unseen waterways to the place we find it now. It is by the deep, hidden currents that the oceans are made one.”

In The Sea Around Us (1951) by R. Carson. Published by Oxford University Press, New York. p. 150.


The Ocean as Climate Regulator

"For the globe as a whole, the ocean is the great regulator, the great stabilizer of temperature. It has been described as ‘a savings bank for solar energy, receiving deposits in seasons of excessive insolation and paying them back in seasons of want.’ Without the ocean, our world would be visited by an unthinkably harsh extremes of temperature....”

In The Sea Around Us (1951) by R. Carson. Published by Oxford University Press, New York.


These quotes address the great movements of water and atmosphere over the surface of our planet. Among the greatest problems facing scientists today are these movements of oceanic waters and their interactions with the overlying atmosphere. The great currents of the oceans, the tidal cycles, and the transfer of heat and gases between ocean and atmosphere affect the earth and the biosphere in profound and sometimes unpredictable ways.

The Coast and Geodetic Survey Steamer Blake was in service from 1874-1905. Note cable leading from bow, ship anchored in 600 fathoms. Source: The Gulf Stream (1891) by J. E. Pillsbury

The Coast and Geodetic Survey Steamer Blake was in service from 1874-1905. Note cable leading from bow, ship anchored in 600 fathoms. Source: The Gulf Stream (1891) by J. E. Pillsbury (Courtesy of NOAA Photo Library.) Download image (jpg, 66 KB).