Algalita Marine Research Blog

Let’s talk about the weather……

Posted by: ORV Alguita

Our noon position: Latitude: 35 13.230 North Longitude: 123 06.940 West

For the last few days, we’ve had one eye on the calendar, and one on the shifting horizons – the fate of our arrival lies with the winds, which seem to rise and fall whimsically. In fact, there is a method to predicting when and from where the winds will blow. Twice a day, we receive a weather fax from NOAA, to the untrained eye, a cryptic legend full of numbers, symbols and hieroglyphics.

Fortunately, we have a few weather buffs on board. Here’s Herb, who has been painstakingly cutting and pasting these daily faxes together. Yes, he’s a surgeon, so this comes naturally…but he’s also tracing a story, to help us better understand the trends.

Here’s Herb to tell you how he works his magic:


By now most of you know that the Gyre is a gigantic vortex of current, sitting beneath a barometric High Pressure System. That system is generally calm, with very light winds, and boats have a hard time getting out of its “Grip!” In fact, once trapped, all sorts of things travel around the Gyre for years and years, carried by the currents. Some of you Astronomy fans will think, “that’s a little like a ‘Black Hole.” Except there’s NO getting out of a Black Hole. Anna mentioned in her last blog that sailing ships of old were often trapped for long periods of time, and continually tried to lighten the load by dumping overboard everything possible. They called this area “the horse latitudes.” Guess who got to go overboard? Not a pretty picture, but then this is not a place to underestimate.

We used up most of our fuel in our Scientific Mission completing our Trawls to be as accurate as possible. But, now it’s time to go home, and we’re depending on our sails. Every day (and often twice a day) we download, from the web site, a “Weather Fax” that covers the entire North Pacific Ocean. It’s called the “Pacific Surface Analysis.” We get one at 00 and another at 12:00 Universal Time. These weather maps contain information about all the High and Low Pressure areas that are marching across the Pacific, from East to West. It shows the Barometric Pressures, the wind directions and wind speeds, and indicates the areas of Gales, Storms, and Hurricanes.

Anna took a picture of me at the Helm of Alguita this evening (above). I’m holding a group of the Weather Faxs from February 14th to 20th. I’ve taped these together like a hand of playing Cards. But instead of organized like a fan, they are oriented vertically, with only the latitude from 30 degrees North to 40 degrees N showing at the top of each page. Several times each day I confer with Captain Moore, and we try to pick our way across the Ocean, and choose the sails that we’re going to use.

The “H”s represent high pressure areas, and the “L”s are the low pressure areas. We try to keep the vessel above the center of the Highs, so we can catch the clockwise rotation of the winds, from the South and West. We also try to stay in front of the Low Pressure areas and on the South side of the center of the Low. Because the Low’s have counterclockwise winds, it is here that we can catch the South West winds that can also take us home.

How are we doing?

Well…. Look for our return on Friday. Captain Moore and I, as well as the entire Crew, are trusting that our calculations, our regular changes of the sails, and our careful attention to our Navigation and Ship will bring us home on time.

Aloha and gracias from the captain and crew of the ORV Alguita!

Oh, and why don’t you down load a Weather Fax like this, and see if you can tell what’s coming to California this weekend? (

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Date Posted: February 21, 2008 @ 3:57 pm Comments (0) | Comment Shortcut


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