Ocean Currents

Interested in Ocean Currents?

Not having control of the rudder module on Europa has really put the Jupiter team in a tough spot. We are completely at the mercy of the sea. For the past month we’ve continued to put our efforts towards recovering Europa, but we’re not there just yet.

In the mean time, we can still learn some things!


Like we mentioned in our last post, when we lost communication to the sub, the rudder automatically set itself in a “right rudder” position. Again, the goal is that it will do circles and stay in the same spot until it can either be fixed or recovered.

The ocean currents, however, have different plans!

If you’ve been following Europa you’ve noticed that it definitely hasn’t stayed in the same place. The currents are very strong out there in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and even though Europa’s “right rudder” may slow things down, it’s not stopping the inevitable drifting to wherever the sea may take it.

The last 30 days of Europa’s travel, all of which it has been drifting with the ocean currents.

The last 30 days of Europa’s travel, all of which it has been drifting with the ocean currents.

Left: Zoomed in portion of the 30 day picture  Right: Even more zoomed in portion, representing about 2 days of drift

Left: Zoomed in portion of the 30 day picture

Right: Even more zoomed in portion, representing about 2 days of drift

As you can see, Europa is all over the place!

When we look a little closer, you get a really good idea of what’s happening out there. Currents can (and do) change all the time. For example, there might be a strong SW current in a location at noon, and then by 4pm it’s turned into a mild NW current.

Wind is the main contributor to surface ocean currents (the top 100m of the ocean). In the Northern Hemisphere, the winds basically circle in a clockwise motion. From East to West near the equator, and then from West to East up North. This helps to explain why Europa is drifting in a SW direction.

Actually, part of the reason we haven’t been able to recover Europa yet is due to the strong winds in the surrounding area.

If you have a look below, you can see the wind reports at, and around, Europa’s position. Remember, these are satellite projections. Europa is our real-time true report.

And here is a look at the currents (these are interactive widgets, so feel free to zoom and pan around)…

Depending on how much you zoom in, you can see the little areas where the currents just go in circles (aka gyres). In other areas there are just steady streams that basically go in one direction.

Europa has found itself in both of these throughout the last month, but, again, has mostly followed a SW path.

This is a unique, and unintentional, experiment where we get to monitor the ocean currents first hand out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It’s pretty cool to compare to these satellite projections and see how accurate they actually are.

Europa’s location, relative to the entire Pacific Ocean.

Europa’s location, relative to the entire Pacific Ocean.

Well, we are still working to put together a recovery of Europa. Plans are in place, we are just waiting on a good break in the weather to go out an get it.

Our main hopes are that we keep communications to the float, and that it doesn’t get hit by some debris or a boat passing by. We’ve had some close calls, but so far so good!

We will keep you all updated and “current” (pun intended) as to what’s happening, and, as always, feel free to keep an eye on Europa from our HUMPACS page.


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How the Sea Shapes our Lives

Ocean Currents. Photo by  Atlas for the End of the World

Ocean Currents. Photo by Atlas for the End of the World

The vast, mysterious ocean, covering 71 percent of the Earth, plays an essential role in our everyday lives. Not just for the coastal and island dwellers, but for everyone. The ocean provides many ecosystem services, including food production, fisheries, pharmaceuticals, oxygen regulation, carbon storage and sequestering, water quality enhancement, coastal protection, biodiversity, economy, cultural values, and climate and weather regulation. Without the ocean, we would not be able to survive.

One of the most critical ecosystem services of the ocean is weather and climate regulation because it affects economies and livelihoods on a global scale. The sea has a low albedo, meaning it absorbs most of the sun’s heat radiation. Thus, water molecules heat up and evaporate into the atmosphere and create storms that are carried over long distances by trade winds and currents. These storms can become destructive as they accumulate warm water while traveling over the ocean.

Ocean currents are crucial for regulating the climate and transferring heat around the globe. Water density, winds, tides, and the earth’s rotation direct and power the currents, which are found on the ocean’s surface and at a depth below 900 feet. They move water horizontally and vertically and occur on a local and global scale. The currents create a global conveyor belt that acts as a global circulation system. It transfers warm water and precipitation from the equator towards the cold-watered poles and vice versa. It also plays a vital role in distributing nutrients across the ocean.

As seasons change, so do wind and weather trends, sea surface temperatures, and currents. Currents are stronger in the winter than they are in the summer because there are stronger winds and colder sea temperatures. Furthermore, spring is a considerable transition period. During this time, temperatures begin to warm, the density and salinity of the ocean changes, and wind patterns shift. These factors significantly influence currents, causing them to become unstable.

Without currents, the land wouldn’t be habitable because temperatures would be too extreme; the equator too hot and the poles too cold. Additionally, the precipitation distributed by currents and wind is necessary to all living things and is needed to sustain life. Foreseeable current, weather, and climate trends are key components in maintaining a healthy economy by supporting crops, livestock, tourism, etc., and can also save lives from dangerous storms and create more resilient communities.

Currents are measured and monitored by moored and drifting buoys that relay data via satellite. These buoys are efficient in collecting data, but they are quite costly and require much effort to deploy, retrieve, and maintain. Moored buoys often break from their mooring and can't be implemented in deep waters. Wave Gliders, however, can measure and monitor surface currents on a local and global scale in any seas without the considerable exertion and cost. Therefore, they could be utilized as an alternative to some of the moored buoys or drifters while collecting other vital data such as salinity, sea surface temp, CO2 levels, and much more. 

Europa has not experienced much trouble from the changing spring currents thus far. Although, on April 5th, she hit a robust northern current with no sea state to give her power, which made her veer off course a little. Fortunately, we were able to turn on the thruster (a small solar powered, electric propeller on the sub) that quickly put her back on track. We hope the currents remain steady and in our favor, so she’ll return home as soon as possible.

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