Turbulent waters off the coast of South Africa • Earth.com

Turbulent waters off the coast of South Africa

Today’s Image of the Day comes from the NASA Earth Observatory and features the beautiful but dangerous waters of the coast of South Africa. The photo was taken by the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8.

Prior to the efficiency of modern air travel, those seeking to get from Europe to Asia had only two options: by land or by sea. The latter required ships to travel all the way down the western coast of Africa and then round the southern tip of South Africa.

But the waters off the southern tip of Africa are notoriously turbulent and dangerous. For decades, early Portuguese explorers made one failed attempt after another to make it around the dangerous corner, leading them to name it the Cape of Storms.

The southernmost tip of the continent is named Cape Agulhas, which is Portuguese for “Cape of Needles.” The moniker is a reference to the sharp rock formations that line the coast.

So what makes the waters surrounding South Africa so dangerous? Agulhas Bank just so happens to be the very point where a warm ocean current and a cold ocean current converge. The Agulhas Current brings warm water in from the east at a furious pace, while the slower-moving Benguela Current brings cool water from south to north. Thus, in order to sail around the tip of South Africa, one must push against currents on both sides.

Shipwrecks are still common at Agulhas Bank, where the turbulent currents shoot off rogue waves and eddies.

One upside of the rough waters is that nutrients get brought up from the deep surface waters resulting in large blooms of phytoplankton. The phytoplankton serve as a delicious food source for all kinds of marine life, making Agulhas Bank a plentiful fishing ground.

By Rory Arnold, Earth.com Staff Writer

Photo: NASA Earth Observatory

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