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Benjamin Franklin's chart of the Gulf Stream printed in London in 1769

European discovery of the Gulf Stream dates to the 1512 expedition of Juan Ponce de León, after which it became widely used by Spanish ships sailing from the Caribbean to Spain.[2] A summary of Ponce de León's voyage log on April 22, 1513

The Gulf Stream, together with its northern extension the North Atlantic Drift, is a warm and swift Atlantic ocean current that originates in the Gulf of Mexico and stretches to the tip of Florida, and follows the eastern coastlines of the United States and Newfoundland before crossing the Atlantic Ocean as the North Atlantic Current. The process of western intensification causes the Gulf Stream to be a northwards accelerating current off the east coast of North America. At about 40°0′N 30°0′W / 40.000°N 30.000°W / 40.000; -30.000, it splits in two, with the northern stream, the North Atlantic Drift, crossing to Northern Europe and the southern stream, the Canary Current, recirculating off West Africa.

The Gulf Stream influences the climate of the east coast of North America from Florida to Newfoundland, and the west coast of Europe. Although there has been recent debate,[1] there is consensus that the climate of Western Europe and Northern Europe is warmer than other areas of similar latitude because of the North Atlantic Current. It is part of the North Atlantic Gyre. Its presence has led to the development of strong cyclones of all types, both within the atmosphere and within the ocean. The Gulf Stream is also a significant potential sour

The Gulf Stream influences the climate of the east coast of North America from Florida to Newfoundland, and the west coast of Europe. Although there has been recent debate,[1] there is consensus that the climate of Western Europe and Northern Europe is warmer than other areas of similar latitude because of the North Atlantic Current. It is part of the North Atlantic Gyre. Its presence has led to the development of strong cyclones of all types, both within the atmosphere and within the ocean. The Gulf Stream is also a significant potential source of renewable power generation.

European discovery of the Gulf Stream dates to the 1512 expedition of Juan Ponce de León, after which it became widely used by Spanish ships sailing from the Caribbean to Spain.[2] A summary of Ponce de León's voyage log on April 22, 1513, noted, "A current such that, although they had great wind, they could not proceed forwards, but backwards and it seems that they were proceeding well; at the end it was known that the current was more powerful than the wind."[3]

Benjamin Franklin became interested in the North Atlantic Ocean circulation patterns. In 1768, while in England, Franklin heard a curious complaint from the Colonial Board of Customs: Why did it take British packets several weeks longer to reach New York from England than it took an average American merchant ship to reach Newport, Rhode Island, despite the merchant ships leaving from London and having to sail down the River Thames and then the length of the English Channel before they sailed across the Atlantic, while the packets left from Falmouth in Cornwall.[4]

Franklin asked Timothy Folger, a Nantucket Island whaling captain, for an answer. Folger explained that merchant ships routinely crossed the current—which was identified by whale behaviour, measurement of the water's temperature, and changes in the water's colour—while the mail packet captains ran against it.[4] Franklin had Folger sketch the path of the current on a chart of the Atlantic and add notes on how to avoid the current when sailing from England to America. Franklin then forwarded the chart to Anthony Todd, secretary of the British Post Office.[4] Franklin's Gulf Stream chart was printed in 1769 in London, but it was mostly ignored by British sea captains.[5] A copy of the chart was printed in Paris circa 1770–1773, and a third version was published by Franklin in Philadelphia in 1786.[6][7]

Properties

The Gulf Stream proper is a western-intensified current, driven largely by wind stress.[8] The North Atlantic Drift, in contrast, is largely driven by thermohaline circulation. In 1958, oceanographer Henry Stommel noted that "very little water from the Gulf of Mexico is actually in the stream".[9] By carrying warm water northeast across the Atlantic, it

Benjamin Franklin became interested in the North Atlantic Ocean circulation patterns. In 1768, while in England, Franklin heard a curious complaint from the Colonial Board of Customs: Why did it take British packets several weeks longer to reach New York from England than it took an average American merchant ship to reach Newport, Rhode Island, despite the merchant ships leaving from London and having to sail down the River Thames and then the length of the English Channel before they sailed across the Atlantic, while the packets left from Falmouth in Cornwall.[4]

Franklin asked Timothy Folger, a Nantucket Island whaling captain, for an answer. Folger explained that merchant ships routinely crossed the current—which was identified by whale behaviour, measurement of the water's temperature, and changes in the water's colour—while the mail packet captains ran against it.[4] Franklin had Folger sketch the path of the current on a chart of the Atlantic and add notes on how to avoid the current when sailing from England to America. Franklin then forwarded the chart to Anthony Todd, secretary of the British Post Office.[4] Franklin's Gulf Stream chart was printed in 1769 in London, but it was mostly ignored by British sea captains.[5] A copy of the chart was printed in Paris circa 1770–1773, and a third version was published by Franklin in Philadelphia in 1786.[6][7]

The Gulf Stream proper is a western-intensified current, driven largely by wind stress.[8] The North Atlantic Drift, in contrast, is largely driven by thermohaline circulation. In 1958, oceanographer Henry Stommel noted that "very little water from the Gulf of Mexico is actually in the stream".[9] By carrying warm water northeast across the Atlantic, it makes Western Europe and especially Northern Europe warmer than it otherwise would be.[10]

Formation and behaviour