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Ask NOAA

Question

What is the Gulf Stream and why is knowing its position so important?

Answer

The Gulf Stream is an intense warm ocean current in the Atlantic that flows along the east coast of the United States northward from Florida to North Carolina and then veers out into the North Atlantic near Cape Hatteras, N.C. It forms a boundary between the warm waters in the middle of the North Atlantic and the colder, denser waters of the continental shelf. The Gulf Stream current loops and bends as it veers away from the U.S. coast, so its exact position is variable. NOAA satellite images can locate the position of the Gulf Stream using sea surface temperatures.

The position of the Gulf Stream is important to fishermen because it attracts fish. It also influences weather in some regions of Europe and could sweep away disabled marine vessels, thus making its location useful to weather forecasters and Coast Guard search and rescue operators.

For the most recent look at the Gulf Stream, go to NOAA’s CoastWatch program Web site and the National Centers for Environmental Prediction’s Real-Time Ocean Forecast System Web site for the Atlantic.

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