Giant Whirlpool Off East Coast of Africa is Bigger than Colorado

© NASA Scientific Visualization Studio The Great Whirl, a massive whirlpool that forms each year off the coast of East Africa, is shown here in a visualization of ocean currents in the Indian Ocean.

(Inside Science) — A giant whirlpool off the east coast of Africa is even bigger than previously thought, on average larger than the state of Colorado, satellite data now reveals.

The Great Whirl is a clockwise-spinning vortex that starts to form every April off the coast of Somalia, when winds blowing across the Indian Ocean change direction from west to east. First described in 1866, the strong waves and intense currents of the whirl have long made sailors wary. At its peak, the Great Whirl can reach as broad as 500 kilometers, making it wider than the Grand Canyon is long, and its currents can go farther than a kilometer deep.

Piracy off the Somali coast has long hampered research into the Great Whirl. To shed light on its behavior, researchers with the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi analyzed satellite measurements of sea levels from 1993 to 2015. They discovered the whirl covered an area roughly 72% larger than previous estimates, averaging 275,000 square kilometers in size over 23 years.

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