Mediterranean Sailing, Cruising top

Predominant current - June.

Mediterranean Sailing. Mediterranean currents.


Mediterranean hydrodynamics are driven by three layers of water masses: a surface layer, an intermediate layer, and a deep layer that sinks to the bottom; a separate bottom layer is absent. Deepwater formation and exchange rates and the processes of heat and water exchange in the Mediterranean have provided useful models for studying the mechanisms of global climatic change.

The surface layer has a thickness varying from 250 to 1,000 feet. This variable thickness is determined in the western basin by the presence of a minimum temperature at its lower limit. In the eastern basin the temperature minimum generally is absent, and a layer of low-temperature decrease is found instead. The intermediate layer is infused with warm and saline water coming from the eastern Mediterranean and is characterized by temperature and salinity maxima at 1,300 feet. This layer is situated at depths between 1,000 and 2,000 feet. The deep layer--containing the great bulk of Mediterranean water--occupies the remaining zone between the intermediate layer and the bottom. In general, the water of this layer is very homogeneous.

The Mediterranean Sea receives from the rivers that flow into it only about one-third of the amount of water that it loses by evaporation. In consequence, there is a continuous inflow of surface water from the Atlantic Ocean. After passing through the Strait of Gibraltar, the main body of the incoming surface water flows eastward along the north coast of Africa. This current is the most constant component of the circulation of the Mediterranean. It is most powerful in summer, when evaporation in the Mediterranean is at a maximum. This inflow of Atlantic water loses its strength as it proceeds eastward, but it is still recognizable as a surface movement in the Sicilian channel and even off the Levant coast.

A small amount of water also enters the Mediterranean from the Black Sea as a surface current through the Bosporus, the Sea of Marmara, and the Dardanelles.

In summer Mediterranean surface water becomes more saline through the intense evaporation, and, correspondingly, its density increases. It therefore sinks, and the excess of this denser bottom water emerges into the Atlantic Ocean over the sill forming the shallow Strait of Gibraltar as a westward subsurface current below the inward current. The inflowing water extends from the surface down to 230 or 260 feet. The Mediterranean has been metaphorically described as breathing, inhaling surface water from the Atlantic and exhaling deep water in a countercurrent below.

Surface circulation of the Mediterranean consists basically of a separate counterclockwise movement of the water in each of the two basins. Because of the complexity of the northern coastline and of the numerous islands, many small eddies and other local currents form essential parts of the general circulation. Tides, although only significant in range in the Gulf of Gabes and in the northern Adriatic, add to the complications of the currents in narrow channels such as the Strait of Messina.

Historically, large seasonal variations in the Nile discharge influenced the hydrology, productivity, and fisheries of the southeastern part of the Mediterranean. The Nile's inflow reduced the salinity of the coastal waters and increased both the stratification and productivity of these waters. The Aswan High Dam (1970) stopped the seasonal fluctuation of the discharge of the Nile water into the Mediterranean. The Suez Canal between the Mediterranean and Red seas passes negligible amounts of Red Sea water into the Mediterranean.

Mediterranean Marinas    Mediterranean Sailing


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