Eddy Rises

It was reported a few days ago that a “giant ocean eddy” has formed off the coast of Australia, and it now “shadows Sydney.” It’s nearly 300km wide. The oceanic vortex “completes a full revolution every 10 days and the sea level at its centre is reduced by nearly 1m, which is how researchers can tell where the eddy is.” It is now “an ocean feature approaching the size of Tasmania.”

[Image: An illustration for Edgar Allan Poe’s Descent into the Maelstrom, by Harry Clarke].

Unfortunately, the eddy is “dissipating” – but it might yet turn into something else.
After all, the eddy has an aqueous antecedent: “A mysterious, huge and dense mass of cold water is milling off the coast of Sydney,” we were told by a reporter for Cosmos, back in March 2007. The eddy is “baffling researchers and delighting fishermen” – and sowing the seeds of what has become today’s hyper-eddy.
And last year’s eddy was already huge. As Giles Foden wrote in the Guardian, it “carrie[d] more water than 250 Amazon rivers.”
Inspired, Foden cites Edgar Allan Poe:

The edge of the whirl was represented by a broad belt of gleaming spray; but no particle of this slipped into the mouth of the terrific funnel, whose interior, as far as the eye could fathom it, was a smooth, shining, and jet-black wall of water, inclined to the horizon at an angle of some forty-five degrees, speeding dizzily round and round with a swaying and sweltering motion, and sending forth to the winds an appalling voice, half shriek, half roar…

“While they cannot be described as a freak of nature,” Foden continues, “eddies as large as that discovered off Sydney can play a significant part in unexpected climate events” – and that brings us back yet another year, to 2006, for more news of weird vortices off the coast of Australia.
Moving to the other side of the continent, we find a “death trap” at sea:

A massive ocean vortex discovered off the West Australian coast is acting as a “death trap” by sucking in huge amounts of fish larvae and could affect the surrounding climate.

A scientist who visited the site “said the climate above the vortex was noticeably different. ‘It feels like you’re in the tropics,’ she said. ‘It’s warm, soft, moist air, with flying fish, it’s a very different environment.'”
And I love this:

“We were in a 70-metre boat and you could immediately feel the shift in the ship’s tract, so you can certainly tell that there’s something unusual going on out there,” she said.

Spontaneous misdirection at sea.
So could that “something unusual” be repeated elsewhere? And though I mean naturally, perhaps it could even be done artificially: a vast stirring operation at sea, brought to you by Boeing… In fact, I’m tempted to pitch a science fiction film: a huge eddy forms off the coast of Manhattan, stirring up deep currents of sludge and dumped trash from the 1970s. The waters turn thick. Syringes and other forms of medical waste re-appear. The beaches of Long Island are closed. And then strange blood infections hit the local fishermen.
And then the fishermen begin to change… as the eddy drifts closer to shore.
Or, for that matter, set the film in San Francisco.
Cloverfield 2.

(Thanks to Alexis Madrigal for the tip!)

8 thoughts on “Eddy Rises”

  1. Somehow this reminded me of something equally perplexing, although not entirely natural .. Or in a way, nature keeps the original human act in motion. Ablaze, actually.


    For the last 35 years, a massive hole in ground, in the middle of nowhere, has been in flames. And it isn’t going out, and nobody is going to snuff it. Maybe build a massive half-sphere around and over it with living spaces and everlasting natural source of light and heat?

  2. Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

  3. This reminds me of a story in Harper’s magazine a couple years ago about a shipping vessel the tipped and dumped hundreds of rubber ducks and other rubber animals into the ocean. They turned up, and are still turning up all over the world.

    The author mentions a section of the south pacific, much like an eddy that is a natural, swirling, vortex that sucks in all sorts of ocean debris.

    My memory is a bit fuzzy on the details but it is a fascinating article. I believe it is called “Moby-Duck: Or, the synthetic wilderness of childhood” for anyone who is a Harper’s subscriber.

  4. “I didn’t mind so much gettin’ caught in it. What I resented was havin’ to row uphill to get out!”

    So tells a local legend of a fisherman in a dingy who found himself in the Old Sow maelstrom.

    Your post reminded me of my time living in Eastport, Maine, home of the Old Sow…Old Sow is the largest tidal whirlpool in the Western Hemishere – about 250 feet in diameter at its most glorious.

    The interesting thing about it is that it occurs daily with the tide. Eastport sports a 25-30′ tide, and given the tight confines of the Passamaquddy Bay and the sub-surface topography, the whirlpool makes a showing, and sounding, like clockwork. It has made a secure place for itself in local lore.

    There is even a Surviors Association, for the lucky folks who get caught in it, and get out alive!

    Be sure to check out the site below. You might be interested in speculating on the relationship this phenomena has had with it’s various contexts (geologic, oceanic, anthropological, etc) :


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