(02-02-11) The Sargasso Sea has been and still is a place full of mysteries that are gradually uncovered. There, three biological phenomena and a disturbing fame because of shipwrecks and disappearances join.
In Northwest Atlantic there is a strange sea of quiet waters, not bounded by land, where there are mysterious disappearances of ships, planes and people, and there are three exceptional biological phenomena: surface covered with algae Sargassun natan, the “lost year” of loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta) and procreation, birth and death of eels (Anguilla anguilla).
This oval mass of water, which occupies an area equivalent to two thirds of the U.S. area, turns around the Bermuda islands, whose magnificent beaches are the only land bathed by the waters of the Sargasso Sea. This sea is surrounded by important ocean currents: the Gulf Stream in the north and the currents flowing westward along the Tropic of Cancer in the south.
Rotational forces of the surrounding currents make the level in the center of the Sargasso Sea is almost one meter higher than the Atlantic waters around it. This results in relatively warm surface water turning slowly in clockwise direction, over the deep waters of the ocean, much colder and denser.
This density stratification of water, caused by differences in temperature, has important ecological consequences. In surface waters, where light arrives, there is much phytoplankton, which consumes salts such as phosphates and nitrates.
Due to density difference, the surface water is little mixed with cold and mineral-rich water of the lower layers, which could replace the salt consumed. For this reason, in the upper regions of the Sargasso Sea there is little animal life, and there would not have biological interest if it was not for algae after which the sea is named: the sargassum natam, which forms large areas teeming with marine organisms.
SARGASSOS, A SEA INSIDE AN OCEAN
The main feature of this huge area is the presence of the Sargassum natam, an alga that marks the limits of this sea inside an ocean, floating separately or in large masses.
When Columbus watched all those algae in his first voyage, he thought land was close, and he felt comforted. By the way, his crew did not share that feeling.
The northern limit of this sea of algae is created by the Gulf Stream, which goes first to the North and then to the East. On the west and south it is bounded by the Gulf Stream in its way back and by the Nord-Equatorial Current. Although it is a bit amorphous, it extends from 37 to 27 degrees north latitude and from 75 to 40 degrees west latitude.
Under its deep waters, the abyssal plains Hatteras and Nares lie, the sudden elevation of Bermuda: many and intriguing seamounts that rise to the surface but have a flat end, as if they had been islands time ago.
In the east there is a part of the North Atlantic range, a huge mountain chain in the middle of the Atlantic whose high tops go out through the marine surface to make the Azores Islands.
In other words, it is an almost stagnant sea that has no currents except in its boundaries. It extends from about 320 km north of the Greater Antilles to Florida and the Atlantic coast; it usually stays at a distance less than 320 km from land, and moves around Cape Hatteras. Then, it follows towards the Iberian Peninsula and Africa, to the North Atlantic Ridge, and finally comes back to the Americas.
“CALMS OF DEATH”, ORIGIN OF LEGENDS
Other characteristic of this sea is its calms of death, which can be the origin of the picturesque and disturbing legends that name the Sargasso Sea as “the sea of lost ships” or “the cemetery of lost ships” or “the sea of fear”.
It is said that sailors think that there is a large cemetery on the surface of the Atlantic ocean that would have ships of all stages in human navigation, captured and immobilized in alga fields and suffering a slow decomposition but still ruled by skeleton crews of the unfortunate ones that could not run away and had to share the destiny of their vessels...
In this area of death there would be steamships, yachts, whalers, clippers, packet-boats, brigantines, pirate ships and, to make a better story, Spanish galleons full of treasures.
In new and enthusiastic versions of the stories, sailors included other ships that were already rotten and disappeared by the time of the stories, such as: Viking drakkar ships, which remained full of skeletons commanding oars; Arab galleys; Roman triremes, with their large benches of rowers; Phoenician trading ships with silver anchors; and even the large ships of the Atlantis, with oars covered with gold leaf. All doomed to decompose for centuries in a motionless ocean.
The first legends about the Sargasso Sea could have their origin in the Phoenicians and Carthaginians, who maybe crossed it thousands of years ago, arriving to the Americas, such as said in the many stone inscriptions found in Brazil and the U.S.A, the treasures of Phoenician coins found in the Azores, the Carthaginian coins found in Venezuela and the southeastern coast of the U.S.A, and the ancient pictorial representations of what seem to be Semitic visitors to Mexico.
Text: Guadalupe Romero