Atlantic Ocean Currents- Equatorial, Gulf stream and other Currents

Important Currents of the Atlantic Ocean are as follows:

North Equatorial Current (warm)

North equatorial current is a significant Pacific and Atlantic Ocean current that flows east-to-west between about 10° north and 20° north. This current is generated because of upwelling of cold-water near the west coast of Africa. This warm current is also pushed westward by the cold Canary current.

On an average, the north equatorial warm current flows from east to west but this saline current is deflected northward when it crosses the mid-Atlantic Ridge near 15°N latitude. It again turns southward after crossing over the ridge. This current, after being obstructed by the land barrier of the east coast of Brazil, is bifurcated into two branches viz. Antilles current and Caribbean current. The Antilles current is diverted northward and flows to the east of West Indies islands, and helps in the formation of Sargass Sea eddy while the second branch known as the Caribbean current enters the Gulf of Mexico and becomes Gulf Stream.

South Equatorial Current (warm)

The South Equatorial Current is a significant Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Ocean current that flows east-to-west between the equator and about 20 degrees south. In the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, it extends across the equator to about 5 degrees north. South equatorial current flows from the western coast of Africa to the eastern coast of South America between the equator and 20°S latitude. This current is more constant, stronger and of greater extent than the north equatorial current. In fact, this current is the continuation of the cold Benguela current. This warm current is bifurcated into two branches due to obstruction of land barrier in the form of the east coast of Brazil.

The northward branch after taking north-westerly course merges with the north equatorial current near Trinidad while the second branch turns southward and continues as Brazil warm current parallel to the east coast of South America. This current is basically originated under the stress of trade winds.

Equatorial Counter Current

Equatorial Counter Current is a significant ocean current in the Pacific and Indian oceans that flows west-to-east at approximately five degrees north. The Counter Currents result from balancing the westward flow of water in each ocean by the North and South Equatorial currents.

In El Niño years, Equatorial Counter current intensifies in the Pacific Ocean.

The Equatorial Counter current flows from west to east in between the westward flowing strong north and south equatorial currents. This currents is less developed in the west due to  stress of trade winds. In fact, the counter current mixes with the equatorial currents in the west but it is more developed in the east where it is known as the Guinea Stream. The Equatorial Counter current carries relatively higher temperature and lower density than the two equatorial currents. Several ideas have been put forth to explain the origin of the Equatorial Counter current. According to some scientists this current is originated because of the influence of the westerlies which blow from west to east in the calm zone of the doldrums or in the convergence zone of the north east and south east trade winds.

Gulf Stream

The Gulf Stream is a system of several currents moving in north-easterly direction. This current system originates in the Gulf of Mexico around 20°N latitude and moves in north easterly direction along the eastern coast of North America and reaches the western coasts of Europe near 70°N latitude. This system, named Gulf Stream because of its origin in the Mexican Gulf, consists of

  • Florida current from the strait of Florida to Cape Hatteras,
  • Gulf Stream from Cape Hatteras to the Grand Bank, and
  • North Atlantic Drift (current) from Grand Bank to the Western European coast.

North Equatorial Current flows westward off the coast of northern Africa. When this current interacts with the northeastern coast of South America, the current forks into two branches. One passes into the Caribbean Sea, while a second, the Antilles Current, flows north and east of the West Indies. These two branches rejoin north of the Straits of Florida.  Thus, Florida current is in fact, the northward extension of the north equatorial current. This current flows through Yucatan channel into the Gulf of Mexico, thereafter the current moves forward through Florida Strait and reaches 30°N latitude. Thus, the Florida warm current contains most of the characteristics of the equatorial water mass.

The trade winds blow westward in the tropics, and the westerlies blow eastward at mid-latitudes. This wind pattern applies a stress to the subtropical ocean surface with negative curl across the North Atlantic Ocean. The resulting Sverdrup transport is Equatorward. Because of conservation of potential vorticity caused by the northward-moving winds on the subtropical ridge’s western periphery and the increased relative vorticity of northward moving water, transport is balanced by a narrow, accelerating poleward current, which flows along the western boundary of the ocean basin, outweighing the effects of friction with the western boundary current known as the Labrador Current. The conservation of potential vorticity also causes bends along the Gulf Stream, which occasionally break off due to a shift in the Gulf Stream’s position, forming separate warm and cold eddies. This overall process, known as western intensification, causes currents on the western boundary of an ocean basin, such as the Gulf Stream, to be stronger than those on the eastern boundary.

As a consequence, the resulting Gulf Stream is a strong ocean current. It transports water at a rate of 30 million cubic meters per second through the Florida Straits. As it passes south of Newfoundland, this rate increases to 150 million cubic meters per second.

The average temperature of water at the surface is 24°C while the salinity is 3.6%. The temperature never falls below 6.5°C . The current becomes narrow while passing through the Florida strait but thereafter its width increases and current flows close to coast.

Canary Current (Cold)

The Canary current, a cold current, flows along the western coast of north Africa between Maderia and Cape Verde. In fact, this current is the continuation of North Atlantic Drift which turns sout.hward near the Spanish coast and flows to the south along the coast of Canaries Island. The average velocity of this current is 8 to 30 nautical miles per day. This current brings cold water of the high latitudes  to the warm water of the low latitudes and finally merges with the north equatorial current. The Canary cold current ameliorates the otherwise hot weather conditions of the western coasts of North Africa.’

Labrador Current (Cold)

The Labrador Current, an example of cold current, originates in the Baffin Bay and Davis Strait and after flowing through the coastal waters of Newfoundland and Grand Bank merges with the Gulf Stream around 50°W longitude. The flow discharge rate of the current is 7.5 million ml of water per second. This current brings with it a large number of big icebergs as far south as Newfoundland and Grand Bank. These icebergs present effective hindrances in the oceanic navigation. Dense fogs are also produced due to the convergence of the Labrador cold current and the Gulf Stream near New-foundland.

Brazil Current (Warm)

The Brazil current is characterized by high temperature and high salinity. This current is generated because of the bifurcation of the south equatorial current because of obstruction of the Brazilian coast near Sun Rock. The northern branch flows northward and merges with the north equatorial current while the southern branch known as the Brazil current flows southward along the east coast of South America up to 40°S latitude. Thereafter it is deflected eastward due to the deflective force of the rotation of the earth and flows in easterly direction under the influence of westerlies. The Falkland cold current coming from south merges with Brazil current at 40° S.

Falkland Current (Cold)

The cold waters of the Antarctic Sea flows in the form of Falkland cold current from south to north along the eastern coast of South America up to Argentina. This current becomes most extensive and developed near 30°S latitude. This current also brings numerous icebergs from the Antarctic area to the South American coast.

South Atlantic Drift (Cold)

The eastward continuation of the Brazil current is called South Atlantic Drift. This current is originated because of the deflection of the Brazil warm current eastward at 40°8 latitude due to the deflective force of the rotation of the earth. The South Atlantic Drift, thus, flows eastward under the influence of the westerlies. This current is also known as the Westerlies Drift or the Antarctic Drift.

Benguela Current (Cold)

The Benguela current, a cold current, flows from south to north along the western coast of south Africa. In fact, the South Atlantic Drift turns northward due to obstruction caused by the southern tip of Africa. Further northward, this current merges with the South Equatorial Current.

Last Updated: April 3, 2016



  • Mrinal Shastry

    is labrador current responsible for titanic incident????????

  • Mrinal Shastry

    south atlantic drift produced after the mixing of falkland current with brazil warm current and then its eastward flow till the obstruction at southern tip of africa and then northward upweling and movement as benguela current along west coast of africa!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!