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The Sargasso Sea: A Mysterious Sea of Seaweed and Shipwrecks

In September 1492, Columbus’s fleet was sailing in the Atlantic Ocean. At this time, it had been more than a month since they set off from Spain. The crew was very anxious, because Columbus had promised before departure that it would take less than a month to reach Asia. At this time, the lookout on the fleet’s flagship “Santa Maria” suddenly told everyone that a large “grassland” appeared ahead! Excited, Columbus ordered the fleet to advance at full speed. However, when the fleet came close to the “grassland”, everyone realized that it was not a “grassland”, but pieces of green seaweed floating on the ocean, which gave off a disgusting stench. In the gaps in the seaweed, the crew found that the clarity of the water body was extremely high, and they could see the deep part of the ocean. Relying on his years of sailing experience, Columbus told the crew that this place is very dangerous. If you don’t pay attention, the ship will be entangled in seaweed and unable to get out. Sure enough, the fleet was in a variety of situations for a while, but fortunately everyone united as one, and finally escaped from this “clear grassland”. However, Columbus had lingering fears and named this sea area “Sargasso Sea”. “Salgasso” means Sargasso.
  It was very lucky that Columbus’s fleet was able to escape, because many ships were killed in this area later. As time goes on, people talk about it, so this sea area is also called “sea grave”. According to incomplete statistics, as of the 1870s, more than 500 shipwrecks occurred here, and more than 5,000 people died in accidents. So, why can this sea area become a “sea grave”?
  We must first understand the characteristics of the Sargasso waters. The Sargasso Sea is located in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean, with an area of ​​5 to 6 million square kilometers. It is actually a bit far-fetched to say that it is a sea, because this sea has no coastline. The reason why it is called “sea” is because this sea area is very special, it is a relatively static sea area. The Sargasso Sea is surrounded by three clockwise currents, the Gulf Stream and its extension, the North Atlantic Current, to the west and north, the Canary Current to the east, and the Northern Equatorial Current to the south. . These currents surround the Sargasso Sea, so that it has very little exchange with the outside world, and its own flow is very small, so except for the part in contact with the current, the other parts are basically static.
  The Sargasso Sea is very clear, with high visibility and a higher temperature than nearby water bodies. Generally speaking, the transparency of the ocean can reach about 50 meters, while the average transparency of the Sargasso Sea is 66.5 meters, and some sea areas can even reach 72 meters. When sailing in these crystal-clear and transparent waters, people are confused whether they are sailing in the sea or flying in the air. However, this clear and quiet seawater will form a greenhouse effect, which will store the heat energy brought by sunlight in the seawater body, thereby forming a significant temperature difference with the outside seawater body.
  Such sea areas are especially suitable for the growth and reproduction of sargassum. Sargassum belongs to the family Phytophyta Sargassum, and is the largest algae that can grow independently in open water. When it grows to a certain extent, it will split, and eventually large pieces of Sargassum will float on the sea surface, just like a giant raft. Sargassum also has a special structure that can directly absorb various essential substances from seawater. Compared with other sea bodies, the Sargasso Sea is relatively stable and has a slightly higher temperature. These two factors are very helpful to the reproduction of Sargassum: stable seawater is conducive to the fission and aggregation of Sargassum, and slightly higher water temperature It further stimulates the growth of sargassum. Over time, this place has become a “grassland”.
  After understanding the characteristics of the Sargasso Sea, we have to look at the driving problem of ancient ships. Before the invention of the steam engine, ships were driven mainly by two kinds of power: human power and wind power. Of course, human power refers to paddling, but on the vast sea, it is unrealistic to rely on paddling to drive, so the main power of sea ships comes from sails. Columbus’s ship “Santa Maria” is a three-masted sailing ship. This multi-masted sailing ship is driven by a complete set of complex sail systems. After the sailboat enters the Sargasso Sea, which is basically free from wind and waves, it naturally floats on the sea. The fast-growing sargassum will slow down the speed of the ship, and it is not difficult to understand the shipwreck and death of the sailboat that has lost power for a long time in the foul-smelling Sargasso Sea. After the advent of steamships, this situation improved a lot, so after the 1870s, the number of shipwrecks in the Sargasso Sea decreased greatly.
  The mysterious Sargasso Sea provides good resources for people to create art. For example, the famous French writer Jules Verne described the Sargasso Sea in his masterpiece “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea”; the story in the British science fiction film “The Lost Continent” released in 1968 took place here The sixth episode of the Chinese cartoon “Haier Brothers” tells the story of the “battle” between the Haier brothers and the Sargassum in this sea area. Of course, these artistic creations have in turn added to the mystery of the Sargasso Sea.
  Knowing this, you may feel that the mystery of this “sea grave” has disappeared. New research, however, suggests that it wasn’t all that that caused the shipwreck.

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