OCEAN CURRENTS MAP: Some Nifty Animation

Current Map Gulf and East Coast

I’m not sure what to make of this, but it sure is fun to look at. Click through to this Ocean Surface Currents Map website, and you’ll see this image is actually animated. It just covers areas around the United States, but still gives you a very good idea of just how dynamic the ocean really is.

Off the East and Gulf Coasts anyway. What most surprised me is how little current action there is off the West Coast.

The big question, of course, is whether it’s useful or not, and I’m not sure it is. The map on its face purports to be a real-time forecast of what’s actually going on out there, but when I compare it to official forecasts there seems to be little correlation.

For example, here’s a close-up showing current contours between New England and Bermuda for 0600 hrs on November 22, the day I first stumbled across the site:

Current map Nov 22

You see there’s a nice fat meander in the Gulf Stream, and if you were sailing from Newport to Bermuda you’d want to be very sure you caught a ride on its southbound side.

Compare this, however, to the current forecast from the Ocean Prediction Center for the same time and date, and you see no sign of that huge meander:

OPC current Nov 22

These current contours normally don’t change very rapidly, so I should think the two forecasts, if at all accurate, should look fairly similar.

I checked this morning and compared images from the two sources for 0900 hours today, and again they seem to have little to do with each other:

Current map Nov 27

OPC current Nov 27

I shot off an e-mail last week to the guys who created the site, but so far they haven’t deigned to respond. My guess is this is still in beta mode, so I wouldn’t use it for passage planning. Hopefully it may become more useful in the future.

UPDATE: Just got a reply to my e-mail. It is informative:


You were not missing anything.  Our maps should have looked pretty
similar for the Gulf Stream region, because we were also accessing
data from the NCOM US East model, the same one you compared to on the
NCEP site.

What happened was that the URLs that we were using to access the
latest data changed without our realizing it.    I have to admit we
haven’t paid much attention to this site — we just threw it up as a
neat visualization example.  But lately it’s received more attention,
so we will put in a few checks to make sure that surface currents
being displayed are actually “current”.

If you check again
it should look more like the NCEP maps.

Please let us know if you find other issues.

Rich Signell

P.S. I was a huge fan of Sail magazine when I was a teen, racing
lasers in Michigan 35 years ago, but dreaming of bigger things…
Maybe I need to renew!

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