Spiral Eddies

Santa Catalina Island
Gulf of California

Santa Catalina Island, Gulf of California

5 lJ-47-019
Flight 51J; 26N, 110.5W, 17:15:06 GMT, 6 Oct 1985

A theory had been postulated that when eddies are forced by currents moving past an island, then a von Karman vortex street of counterrotating eddies will appear in the ocean downstream behind the island. Such vortices certainly occur in the atmosphere downwind from islands that project through an inversion layer over the ocean. Observations have been made and many photographs taken of the counterrotating vortices around the Canary Islands, in the Atlantic, and around Guadalupe Island, off the coast of Baja California.
    None had been observed in the open ocean. However, when the crew of the Atlantis looked at the scene in the southern Gulf of California as the incoming tidal current flowed passed Santa Catalina Island, a counterclockwise rotating eddy was observed forming on the eastern end of the island. At first glance, the eddy stream spreading downstream seemed to be composed of sets of counterrotating eddies. A closer look at the photograph shows that each eddy stream has eddies that are rotating counterclockwise, conforming with all other spiral eddies in the Northern Hemisphere.

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