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Coastal Currents - Upwelling

Winds blowing across the ocean surface often push water away from an area. When this occurs, water rises up from beneath the surface to replace the diverging surface water. This process is known as “upwelling.”

Upwelling Upwelling occurs when winds blowing across the ocean surface push water away from an area and subsurface water rises up to replace the diverging surface water.

Upwelling occurs in the open ocean and along coastlines. The reverse process, called downwelling, also occurs when wind causes surface water to build up along a coastline. The surface water eventually sinks toward the bottom.

Subsurface water that rises to the surface as a result of upwelling is typically colder, rich in nutrients, and biologically productive. Therefore, good fishing grounds typically are found where upwelling is common. For example, the rich fishing grounds along the west coasts of Africa and South America are supported by year-round coastal upwelling.

World Upwelling AreasMajor upwelling areas along the world's coasts are highlighted in red.
Seasonal upwelling and downwelling also occur along the West Coast of the United States. In winter, winds blow from the south to the north, resulting in downwelling. During the summer, winds blow from the north to the south, and water moves offshore, resulting in upwelling along the coast. This summer upwelling produces cold coastal waters in the San Francisco area, contributing to the frequent summer fogs. (Duxbury, et al, 2002.)

Because rip currents move perpendicular to shore and can be very strong, beach swimmers need to be careful. A person caught in a rip can be swept away from shore very quickly. The best way to escape a rip current is by swimming parallel to the shore instead of towards it, since most rip currents are less than 80 feet wide. A swimmer can also let the current carry him or her out to sea until the force weakens, because rip currents stay close to shore and usually dissipate just beyond the line of breaking waves. Occasionally, however, a rip current can push someone hundreds of yards offshore. The most important thing to remember if you are ever caught in a rip current is not to panic. Continue to breathe, try to keep your head above water, and don’t exhaust yourself fighting against the force of the current.

Source: NOAA's Ocean Service

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