Flight 61B; 5.5N, 73.5E, 06:40:02 GMT, 1 Dec 1985
The atolls in the Maldive and Laccadive islands of the Indian Ocean differ dramatically from those in the tropical Pacific Ocean, and even from those in the Chagos Archipelago, some 900 kilometers to the south. The surrounding reefs are discontinuous, in some atolls there being more open water than coral-island platforms. Fadiffolu Atoll in the Maldives presented a clear view from the flight deck of the Atlantis, even providing good information on the streamlines of the seawater as it floods from east to west through the reef and the lagoon.
The southern half of Miladummadulu Atoll exhibits an entirely different reef structure from Fadiffolu. The encompassing reef has more water gaps than reef, and within the lagoon are a myriad of "ring" islands that lie atop mature lagoonal knolls as well as internal miniature atolls yet to fill and form an island.
The Maldives lie in the North Equatorial Current of the Indian Ocean, which increases in the strength of its westerly flow during the winter monsoon season. The Atlantis crew caught the islands on the edge of the sun's glitter pattern. This scene permitted an examination of the manner in which the current floods into the lagoons from the east, breaks into a dendritic flow (as inside Fadiffolu), and creates island wakes (as in Miladummadulu Atoll). The submerged deltas inside the lagoonal entrances are indicative of the persistent flow throughout the year.
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