Ben Franklin and the Gulf Stream

One trains one's imagination to go visiting.

Hannah Arendt

Figure 1: Ben Franklin. (Wikipedia)

One of my favorite Youtube channels is Wind Hippie Sailing. The Wind Hippie is a free spirit who does not worry about little details like currents and wind – this is the charm of her channel.  While sailing from North Carolina to Puerto Rico, she soon learned the power of the Gulf Stream when she discovered that she was making very slow (maybe negative) progress. Fortunately, she was able to get out of that situation. I was worried she might end up somewhere dangerous, like a reef.

Her predicament reminded me of a story that Sister Mary Agnes told our fifth-grade class about Ben Franklin (Figure 1). She told us that Ben was the first person to publish a chart of the Gulf Stream. Ben's Gulf Stream story began during a visit to England where he heard tales of ships taking much longer to cross from the UK to the US than from the US to the UK. He became curious and upon his return to the US contacted a US whaling captain, Timothy Folger, who was also his distant cousin. Whalers were famous for collecting all sorts of ocean data. Captain Folger confirmed what Ben had heard in England and told Ben what the whalers knew about the Atlantic currents. He showed Ben the path of the current and even how to avoid it. Ben and Captain Folger put together a chart that Ben sent to a contact in England, who then printed it.

I remember as a young boy being impressed by Ben's curiosity and approach – I still am. For those who want to know more about the Franklin-Folger chart of the Gulf stream, check out this document.

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6 Responses to Ben Franklin and the Gulf Stream

  1. Malcolm Frame says:

    Ben Franklin's house in London is now a museum. It has been closed since last year due to the pandemic but may open in mid-June if the number of cases continues to fall.

    • mathscinotes says:

      Thanks for the comment Malcolm! Another place to add to my planned UK trip next year. I really want to see:

      • Imperial War Museum
      • HMS Belfast
      • Bovington Tank Museum
      • HMS Victory
  2. Malcolm Frame says:

    The Gulf Stream is now called "The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC)" and a paper in the journal "Nature Geoscience" reveals that human-induced climate change has caused a substantial reduction in the Gulf Stream’s rate of flow. The researchers predict that should this trend continue, which is likely under current conditions, the degradation of the Gulf Stream will reach a “tipping point” beyond which the change will become irreversible, producing major, negative impacts to weather patterns along the North Atlantic coasts of Europe and North America. Here is the paper:

    In the 1970's I worked on the construction of a North Sea oil platform in a deep water loch on the west coast of Scotland. To get to the site it was necessary to fly to Aberdeen on the east coast, which was usually cold, foggy and grey, and drive across to west Scotland where the weather patterns were dominated by the warm waters of the Gulf Stream and on many days during late winter it was really warm and sunny. In particular, a nearby little village called Plockton was famous for its palm trees on the seafront:

    There is also a beautiful garden called Inverewe full of exotic plants which can only thrive so far north because of the Gulf Stream:

    If present trends continue, by 2100 the Gulf Stream will be no more and the palm trees will die...

    • mathscinotes says:

      Great information. Thank you.

      Alas, I am seeing climate change here as well. Our winters are much different than when I was a child. We are seeing our moose population decline because of heat stress. The plants and animals that live here are changing because things are warmer.


  3. Joel Lagerquist says:

    Not a Gulf Stream channel, but I hope you watch the YouTube channel about battleship New Jersey. The curator who does them is very knowledgeable, and is also funny.

    • mathscinotes says:

      Hi Joel,

      Good to hear from you!

      I am a big fan of Mr. Szymanski. I watch three naval history channels:

      • USS New Jersey (Ryan Szymanski)
        Very good coverage of all things battleships.
      • Drachinifel (name unknown)
        Superb coverage of naval ships from 1850 to 1950. His knowledge is encyclopedic
      • Naval History Live (Dr. Alexander Clarke)
        PhD in naval history and university lecturer. Fairly new channel and production is a bit rough, but the content is gold.

      I find all three superb. In fact, Drachinifel and Clarke work together on Armchair Admirals (production of World of Warships). Drach and Szymanski are supposed to get together once COVID restrictions relax a bit.

      Stay in contact Joel. I hope you are still enjoying software development. I have moved into that area myself (sort of).


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